Remembering Dr. Jack Ramsay, Hall of Fame basketball coach

Dr. Jack Ramsay
Dr. Jack Ramsay

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (April 28, 2014) — Although he hadn’t coached in the NBA since 1988, Dr. Jack Ramsay’s distinguished broadcasting work on radio and TV, sharp basketball mind and his ever-present enthusiasm for the game made him a relevant, well-respected analyst. That continued until he stepped down from his ESPN duties in 2013 due to health issues.

When Dr. Jack passed away on Monday at age 89, there was an outpouring of emotions on social media for a man who loved life, loved his work and loved people. (See below)

One of the best sports books I’ve ever read, David Halberstam’s timeless “The Breaks of the Game,” followed the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers’ season, just two seasons after Ramsay had guided the Blazers to an NBA championship.

The book brilliantly portrays the human side of the great coach, the struggles of that team, the injuries and frustrations mounting, but also the great personality at the center of the team’s still-talented core. (The Blazers went 38-44 that season.)

In 16 of his 20 full seasons as an NBA coach, Ramsay’s teams – Philadelphia 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers – advanced to the playoffs. As the GM, he also was the architect of the Sixers’ 1966-67 NBA title team.

Even more peripatetic than Ramsay, Herb Brown’s college head coaching career began in 1964, followed by a lengthy tenure in the NBA, working for the Pistons (head coach and assistant), and assistant positions with the Sixers, Blazers, Rockets, Pacers, Suns, Hawks and Bobcats.  He also coached in Spain and Israel and led teams in the Western Basketball Association (Tucson Gunners), Continental Basketball Association (Puerto Rico Coquis, Cincinnati Slammers) and International Basketball League (Baltimore BayRunners). He was the Japan women’s national team’s adviser coach last year, and Japan took home the FIBA Asia championship title for the first time in more than 40 years.

Now 78, Brown has followed Ramsay’s career for decades and their paths crossed on countless occasions over the years. He’s had decades to formulate an opinion on Ramsay, and so I asked him for a few thoughts on the Hall of Fame coach earlier today.

“Jack Ramsay, a tremendous basketball coach, leaves a lasting legacy and a void in the coaching profession,” Brown wrote in an email on Monday. “His success will be well documented as will be the example he has established for coaches and mentors. He taught team basketball and proved a cohesive unit, playing together could overcome all odds. He was also always available and went out of his way to help coaches or players seeking advice and guidance. His constant involvement in fostering the game will leave a tremendous void.”

“Dr. Jack Ramsay never forgot you and always asked how you were doing. A remarkable and professional human being and international coaching icon,” added Brown, who received the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ International Committee Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this month in Texas.

* * *
Ramsay, who retired No. 2 in all-time NBA coaching victories behind Red Auerbach, befriended coaches and players of all ages, and always had the same interest in the Xs and Os and machinations of the game as men decades younger.

Here’s a sample of reactions to Dr. Jack’s passing:

Hall of Fame player Reggie Miller, who began his NBA career playing for the then-Pacers coach tweeted, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ramsay family… Thank you for believing in a skinny kid from Riverside CA in ’87.. Great friend.”

In another tweet, Miller wrote, “Great basketball mind.. Thanks Coach, Dr Jack Ramsay..”

Former coach George Raveling tweeted, The world of athletics lost one of its greatest ambassadors, greatest coaches & finest human beings in the presence of Dr. Jack [Ramsay].”

Ben Cafardo, ESPN communications manager tweeted, “Rest in peace Dr. Jack Ramsay. He leaves behind an incredible legacy far beyond basketball or sports media. Tremendous family.”

@JerryTheBookie posted this on Twitter: “RIP Dr. Jack #Ramsay you will be missed. Your work with the #Blazers & #NBA in general will not be forgotten.”

USA Today NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt weighed in via Twitter: “During 2008 Finals, I asked Dr. Jack about pick-and-roll D. He grabbed my arm, took me on the court. Set a pick. Showed me how it’s done.”

ESPN summed up the 1992 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee’s approach to coaching this way in a tweet: “Teams that play together beat those with superior players who play more as individuals.” – Dr. Jack Ramsay

Memphis Grizzlies VP of basketball operations John Hollinger penned this tweet: “So sad to learn about Dr. Jack Ramsay. What a wonderful life. And he always had time for young ‘uns like me.”

Chris Ramsay, an ESPN.com senior director, wrote this moving tribute about his father: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/10851183/dr-jack-ramsay-father-friend

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