I remember the first time I met Tyshawn Taylor, which is unusual. I don’t remember meeting anybody else on that team. It was 2008, and he had just arrived on Kansas’ campus for summer school. He was wearing a white v-neck shirt. That look would become pretty popular over the next year or so, but Tyshawn was the first person I saw in it. He looked cool. I wrote earlier this week that sports are not cool, even though there are cool people in them. Tyshawn is one of those people. Tyshawn is cool. He just is. He has style and charisma. He’s his own man.
I don’t know exactly why I bring that up, but for whatever reason that has always seemed significant to me. I don’t know much about Tyshawn’s aptitude outside of basketball, but I have always assumed he is the kind of person who would thrive in a creative field. He has always seemed so sharply aware of the world and his place within it. He sometimes seems tormented by perception. His own and that of others. Tyshawn has always worn his emotions on the outside. He is a beautiful basketball player to watch, in part because he plays brilliantly, but also because watching him play basketball makes it feel like you know him. No other game is as intimate. In basketball arenas, the fans are right there. Close enough to read the tattoos. The players don’t wear helmets or hats. And basketball is not played behind the wall of structure and design the way football is. Basketball is naked and free. It is played at 5,000 RPM with no seatbelt, and Tyshawn Taylor plays it so honestly. His face always lets you in. His shoulders tell a story. Most players aren’t like that. Most players play covered in the pretenses of Intensity, Unflappability and Invulnerability. Tough guys. Tyshawn isn’t like that. Tyshawn always seems a little vulnerable, and a lot human. The beauty is in that honesty. It can sometimes feel like you’re watching an artist.
When Kansas played at Kansas State recently, and Tyshawn was messing up at the end of the game, and his shoulders started talking and his face started beaming out his insides and he missed the free throws and turned it over, I wrote on Twitter that it looked like Tyshawn was about to paint a masterpiece and cut off his ear. When I say watching Tyshawn play is like watching an artist, I don’t mean he is such a great player he transcends sports, I mean he makes it feel like you’re watching someone express themselves in the most imperfect, crazy, honest way they’re capable of doing it.
You can say many things about Tyshawn, and everybody seems to have something to say about him. But whatever you say, say this too: Tyshawn Taylor is unforgettable.
If that wasn’t true before, I don’t think anybody at Kansas will ever forget about him now. I do believe Tyshawn became a Kansas legend on Saturday, when he played 44 minutes at an intensity and under a pressure most people will never know. He made one turnover. He scored 24 points. He scored nine points in overtime. Twice, he answered a huge Missouri play with one of his own, and when it came time to decide the game, it was Taylor on the foul line, with that face and those shoulders. He made them both, and Kansas won.
Jason King of ESPN.com got a great anecdote about that moment. Tyshawn’s mom, Jeannell, covered her eyes when her boy stepped to the line. She peaked through her fingers to see her son come through in the clutch, to see her son become a hero. “I broke down and cried,” she told Jason. “That’s my baby.”
Jeannell is such a big part of Tyshawn’s story. That sounds stupid, because considering she is the one who gave him birth, she is pretty much the biggest part of Tyshawn’s story. But there is more to it. It is difficult to explain without getting into vagueness and conjecture, and I don’t think it’s responsible to do that, but it is fair and accurate to say Tyshawn carries a heavy burden in his family, a greater one, even, than most kids from tough backgrounds. A greater one than someone his age should have to. I don’t know much, and I don’t mean to imply I do, but I know enough to know some of the valleys in the rolling hills of his career have not been his fault.
And yet there he was. Here he is. He has been on a peak for two months, mostly. He might be the Big 12 player of the year. He might end up on the All-America team, and if he does for the rest of time you’ll look up into the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse and see it: Taylor 10. Right up there with Chamberlain, Manning and Pierce. Can you imagine that?
What is the point of all this? I don’t know, really. That’s the good thing about having a blog. I don’t need a nut graph. I just found myself thinking about him last night and today, this incandescent kid from New Jersey who loves clothes and Jay-Z quotes and is at his best when he is right up on the rails, skating on the razor blade that separates control and chaos, the kid who can make basketball feel like something ethereal.
And I think we might have seen his masterpiece.