BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana basketball Hall of Famer Mike Woodson was only 14 years old when he met Wayne Radford for the first time. It was on a basketball court, of course.
"I remember it like it was yesterday,'' Woodson said of that not-so-accidental first meeting a mere 48 years ago on an Indianapolis playground. "And we've been best friends ever since.''
For Woodson, Monday was a very hard day when he heard that his former Hoosiers teammate had passed away suddenly at his home. Tuesday was very hard, too, and Wednesday will be as well, and on and on.
Every day that passes now just won't be the same.
"I just can't imagine life without him, just picking up the phone and laughing with each other, cutting each other up,'' said Woodson, who's currently an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, with a soft and saddened voice. "Our friendship, man, it was something special. We were always there for each other.''
Radford and Woodson, though two years apart, were Indianapolis neighbors growing up and spent two years together playing for Bob Knight at Indiana in 1977 and 1978. Their bond then is their bond now, and it never wavered for nearly five decades.
It was that special, right from the beginning.
Growing up together, with basketball as its bond
For Mike Woodson, who's one of only five Indiana players to score more than 2,000 points for the Hoosiers, his early basketball days were with Radford never too far away.
"I first met Wayne when I was 14 years old. He was already a great high school player and everybody knew who he was,'' Woodson said by phone from his office in New York. "He went to School 11 over by 42nd and Sherman, and my dad had just died and so I went to live with my sister over that way. One of my teammates in school knew Wayne, and he knew about this outdoor court in the neighborhood where Wayne would play. I was in eighth grade, and he was a sophomore at Arlington, and he was one of the leading scorers in the city at the time.
"I bugged my friend to take me over there, and he did. I wanted to see how I compared to one of the best players in the city. We played against each other, and I think I held my own pretty well. We've been the best of friends ever since that day, for what, like 48 years now. We basically grew up together.''
Radford, who was 64 years old, led Arlington to its one and only regional title in 1974, and then went to Indiana to join what might be the two best teams in Indiana basketball history. He was a key reserve in the 1975 and 1976 seasons, and had a lot to do with the Hoosiers going 63-1 over those two years, and finishing the '76 season unbeaten, the last college team to do so.
Woodson arrived at Indiana in the fall of 1976 after a great prep career at neighboring Broad Ripple High School. He was heavily recruited, but Indiana always had a leg up for one big reason – Wayne Radford.
"Wayne is one of the main reasons why I went to IU. I mean, Scott (May) and them, they were all graduating and I thought I would be able to play right away, but with Wayne being there, it made it really easy because of our relationship. We were best friends. I wasn't going anywhere else, not with Wayne already there.''
Chuck Snowden was Radford's roommate at Indiana. He remembers Radford hosting all of Woodson's recruiting trip, and he wasn't so sure about it at first. But they've been best friends ever since – ''we're the three amigos, and been that way for a long time,'' Snowden said – despite the interesting start.
"Here's something funny. Wayne and I were roommates at McNutt, and when IU was recruiting Woody, Wayne was his host,'' said Snowden, who lives in Silver Springs, Md. now and talked to Radford nearly every day. "He brought him by our room one night during his recruiting weekend, and Woody comes strolling in, he's got this big huge Afro, and this big hat and fancy shoes. I wish I still had a picture from that night. It was hilarious. I looked at Wayne and said, ''man, he's not going to make it here in Bloomington.'
"But once Woody got here, we were all together all the time. Woody was like our little brother, and we all looked out for each other. It was funny when Woody first got to IU. Wayne was telling him about how he had to wait his turn to play, sort of like Wayne did. But Woody wasn't having any of that. He was great from his very first game, and Wayne had a lot to do with that. Woody will tell you. They really pushed each other to be good, and they loved the success they both had. Those two, they loved each other, no doubt about it.''
Radford as a great friend to many
In the 40 years since they played together at Indiana, that friendship never wavered, Woodson said. They talked constantly, played a lot of golf together and took a lot of trips, The families were together all the time, too. Even living in different cities never stopped them from talking all the time.
'When he graduated, it was hard to see him go,'' Woodson said. "He played with the Pacers for a minute and I followed him there, but then when I got the NBA, he came out and saw me a lot. And in the offseason, we played a lot of golf together. Both of our families were close, we were all together all the time. A lot of my friends, they're always amazed and can't believe that I have friendships that go that far back. Whenever I could get to Indy, we'd always get together, for golf or to eat, or have a beer or two together. It was like we'd always pick up right where we left off.
"He was always very supportive of all the golf events that I put on. He'd never miss one. I hosted an event out in Las Vegas, and he'd come every year. He was like a brother to me, and Chuck was too. We were like the three amigos.''
Woodson and Snowden both talked about how everyone enjoyed being around Radford, because of his exuberant personality and the type of person he was. He worked for Cook Medical for more than 30 years and was actively involved with the Varsity Club and IU Alumni Association at Indiana, too.
Radford was simply a really good guy.
"The thing about Wayne, he was just always a grownup, you know,'' said Snowden. "He was very mature and responsible, did all the right things, paid all his bills on time, all of that. He sent out handwritten thank you cards and Christmas cards all the time.
"Wayne was just a really nice dude. I really don't know a single person who didn't like Wayne. Not one. He was just so much fun to be around. At dinner, he'd never think twice about just grabbing the check and paying for it. He didn't care about that. To him, it was just all about being together, being with friends. I can't imagine being any closer to anyone. I just can't express it enough how much I'm going to miss him. It already seems weird not calling him, or him calling me. And it's just been a day or two.''
Woodson says the same thing. He said he'd talk to Radford two or three times a week, and he can't imagine not hearing his voice again.
"We'd talk two or three times a week, and his family is great. Kathy is a real sweetheart. I'm proud of little Wayne, too, he's graduating from Indiana this year, and his daughter is doing great, too. This has to be so hard on all of them, and I'm just trying to do what I can to help them through it. They all know how I feel about him.''
Woodson last saw Radford in the spring when they were both at Assembly Hall when Bob Knight returned to the arena for the first time in 20 years. Woodson and his wife were involved in a car accident that same weekend and had to stay in Indianapolis another week.
Radford visited him then, but when Woodson got back to coaching in the NBA this fall, they couldn't see each other when he came to Indianapolis with the Knicks because of COVID-19 protocols. They talked last week for the last time.
"We'd give each other shots all the time, especially about football,'' Woodson said. "He loves his Colts, but I was a Cowboys fans. I was going to call him on Monday to rib him a little bit about the Colts losing, but I never got that chance.''
Radford was the best man in Snowden's wedding, and he said they talked four of five times a week. "We had just talked on Saturday, and he was laughing and joking and carrying on,'' Snowden said. "He was in great health, and then, just like that, he's gone. It's just terrible.''
Both Woodson and Snowden have great memories of Radford that will last forever.
"Wayne was one of the most competitive people I've ever met, and it doesn't matter what it was, golf or cards, anything. You played Wayne in Tonk of Bid Whist, watch out. He'd want to win every time. And at games, oh man. I've sat next to him at games, and he'd be all over the refs, yelling and screaming. He hates to lose at anything.
"We'd talk four or five times a week easy, just to say hello and what's up. Wayne loved his golf, it was his passion. He could talk some trash, either on the golf course, or with our football teams. He'd give Woody grief about his Cowboys, give me grief about my Washington team. We could always go back and forth on each other. I still can't believe he's gone.''
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