The flight to Hawaii, some 25 years ago, was packed with Wichita State fans, players, coaches and cheerleaders.
They were all headed across the Pacific Ocean to watch the Shockers play in a baseball tournament. Waiting for the final passengers to board, Josh Jackson and his family spotted Steve Wisdom for the first time.
It was an impression, not unlike what happened over and over again with Wisdom, that would spark a lifelong friendship.
“Here’s this guy walking down the aisle, just owning it,” Jackson said, laughing. “He’d been on the flight for like one minute and already scored a drink, somehow, and just had this swagger that he really shouldn’t have had … just way, way overconfident and laughing and pointing and talking to everybody. The best way I could describe him was like a Bill Murray-type.
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“So he comes down the aisle and he gets to his seat, and it’s a middle seat between two cheerleaders, and he goes, ‘Really? I have to sit with two cheerleaders all the way to Hawaii?’ And that was kind of where I looked at my parents and was like, ‘I’ve got to meet his guy.’”
Jackson, then in his early 20s, introduced himself to Wisdom on the bus to a game, then introduced Wisdom to his father, Bill, and the rest of his family. The friendship, with the entire family, lasted until Wisdom’s death on Feb. 21 following a heart attack during the Shockers’ Feb. 18 win over Missouri State at Koch Arena.
Wisdom, 64, was a WSU graduate and lifelong fan who had season tickets not only for men’s basketball, but for baseball and volleyball. If there was a game at WSU, in any sport, he was there.
“He was a Shocker, dedicated through and through,” Bill Jackson said. “He was a true friend and he just loved the school his whole life. Within 15 minutes after the end of every game, I had a voicemail with a 30-second synopsis of how he saw what happened.”
And it’s because of that dedication that the Jacksons and Wisdom’s friends have brought a reminder of him to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this weekend – black and gold signs that say “Win for Wisdom” in memory of their friend that were on display during the Shockers’ 66-58 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal win over Loyola on Friday.
Wisdom’s love of the team wasn’t just something his friends knew about, either.
WSU senior forward Evan Wessel met Wisdom several times through Kaci Tucker, one of Wisdom’s close friends and the older sister of Wessel’s girlfriend, Perri Tucker.
And Wessel got the same first impression Josh Jackson did.
“He was just like he was with everybody else,” Wessel said. “Kind of a smart aleck, joking with everybody, laughing. I know he loved the Shockers, and I know he loved coming to the games. I know he had his ritual with his seat, getting his hot dog and his drink.
“He was a great fan, a good guy. He’ll be missed.”
Josh Jackson had 500 signs made and held a memorial at Abode Venue on the morning before WSU’s final regular-season home game against Illinois State on Feb. 27. Around 300 people showed up after Jackson wrote a poignant Facebook post about his friend.
“I was close friends with him, we talked almost every day and I met people that day I had no idea he was friends with,” Bill Jackson said. “He was a very, very social person. A true friend, and he loved everybody.”
The day of Wisdom’s heart attack, Josh Jackson and Bill Jackson spotted Wisdom across the arena before the game, in the same seat he was always in. At halftime, they tried to walk over to talk to him and found the area blocked off. They found out the next morning it was because of Wisdom’s heart attack – paramedics had frantically worked on him for 15 minutes before he was transported to Wesley Medical Center.
“He was hilarious, loving, genuine … the best friend you could ask for,” Josh Jackson said. “Just a beautiful human being.
“I don’t know that he was a real religious guy, and he never really talked about what he believed in too much, but Koch Arena was like church for him,” Josh Jackson said. “He loved it there, loved going to the games. He felt at home there. I know myself and a lot of other people really miss him. He was hilarious, loving, genuine … the best friend you could ask for. Just a beautiful human being.”
Northern Iowa vs. Wichita State
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Records: UNI 20-12, WSU 24-7
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
TV: CBSSN (Cox 260, DirecTV 221, Dish 158, U-Verse 643)
In Sports: A four-page Missouri Valley Conference section looking at the Shockers’ quarterfinal win