It was announced this morning that Dr. Jack Ramsay, a hall of fame broadcaster and head coach of the Trail Blazers’ 1977 championship team, died Monday at his home in Naples, FL after an extended battle with cancer. He was 89.
Upon news of Ramsay’s passing, articles and stories about his life and career as well as remembrances from current and former players, coaches, staff and media started pouring in from all over the country.
“The Portland Trail Blazers and indeed the NBA have lost an authentic original in Dr. Jack Ramsay. In leading this franchise to its first NBA Championship, Dr. Jack set a standard of excellence for his players, coaches and all who crossed his path,” said Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen. “He was that rarest of men with a unique style that was inspirational and motivational about basketball and life itself. We loved him as a coach, as a broadcaster and as a human being.”
“We have lost one of the pivotal figures in the history of our franchise. Dr. Jack not only led this organization to its first NBA Championship, but his indomitable spirit and character impacted the lives of our players, coaches, fans and staff,” said Chris McGowan, President & CEO of the Trail Blazers and Moda Center. “He is – and always will be – the personification of a true Trail Blazer. We will miss him, and so will the world of sports.”
“Few people have made a bigger impact on the Trail Blazers organization, the city of Portland or the game of basketball than Dr. Jack,” said Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey. “As the son of a Naval Veteran myself, I have always valued and admired Dr. Jack’s service in the United States Navy and dedication to our country. In the end, not only have we lost a Trail Blazers great and basketball icon, but in fact a national treasure.”
Ramsay stepped into the broadcast booth in 1990 as a television analyst for the Miami Heat. But his most extensive and best-known span as a broadcaster came as an NBA analyst for ESPN Radio, stretching from 1996-2013.
“I have always had tremendous respect and admiration for Coach Ramsay. He was a great coach, a great person, and a great ambassador of the game of basketball,” said Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts. “He had a positive influence on many players and coaches throughout the years, including myself. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a true Trail Blazer.”
· Ramsay’s son, Chris, in a piece for ESPN.com, where he serves as a senior director …
My dad had drive, incredible determination and discipline. He was raised by his mom and three older sisters. He turned himself into a local basketball star and earned a scholarship to St. Joe’s.
He entered the Navy as soon as he was old enough and became a frogman during World War II. He trained for the invasion of Japan, but the war ended before he would see any action. When he was 21, the Navy had made him captain of a supply ship that patrolled the Pacific Ocean around the Marshall Islands. Twenty-one and a captain in the U.S. Navy.
He wrote a thesis to earn his Ph.D. and coached a team in the Final Four with five kids under the age of 12 in the house.
He rode his bike halfway across America in a week. He taught himself how to surf and became pretty good at it. He was a world-class triathlete at age 70. One summer he worked on his golf game, then went out and won the men’s championship at the club.
His private life was normal and not normal. He did things a dad and husband would do. He played ball with us in the driveway. He cut the grass. He took us all out for ice cream on summer nights. He and my mom would play cards with the neighbors. He took us to church on Sundays.
He and I grew very close. After college, I followed him to Portland and Indiana. We spent a lot of time together at the Jersey Shore and in Florida. He was the best friend. We worked together for ESPN at the All-Star Game and every Father’s Day at the NBA Finals. He used to say I was his boss, but in truth, I was learning from him. Learning how to be a man in this world. Learning everything.
As he got older, the not-normal stuff began to happen. He started to get sick. Brain tumors, lung tumors, marrow syndrome, skin cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, heart ailments, partial blindness, thrombosis, near-deadly spider bites, gout and shingles. He had hernia surgery. He had cysts removed from his eyelids. He had the bottom of his foot cut off, his lymph nodes stripped out. You probably didn’t know about those battles. He fought them in private.
· Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers head coach …
“Obviously it’s a very sad day for the Ramsay family and the basketball community, but also, it gives us a chance to celebrate an amazing person. He was an amazing coach. The more you read about him after his passing, how much he was beloved and respected and revered in the basketball community, it’s amazing. He had a terrific life, probably a life that should be celebrated.”
On Ramsay’s legacy in Portland …
“Just the fundamentals of teamwork. That’s the word that I think is most associated with him and the championship team was how they played together as a team. I think that optimizes what most coaches want and would love for their team to be associated with.”
· LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers power forward …
“He was a nice guy, very good to be around, talk basketball. We had talked about some things I was doing at the time, how he felt about it. A really nice guy.”
“You’ve always known about him because he is the definition of ‘Trail Blazer.’ To have that title and the only one with it, everyone know who you are. I think we all knew who he was but I didn’t really get to really know who he was until I got here. I just heard people speak so highly of him, everyone loved him in the city. To be around him and talk with him, it was just great.”
What part of his legacy do you think stil exists within the Trail Blazers
“I think everything. His voice, definitely his championship, his level of being competitive and having his players play to such a high level and be physical and have an enforcer. I think everything that he stood for, it still stands today. We’re all just trying to achieve a goal that he did so many years ago.”
Some have compared the ’77 championship team to this team. Do you see some of those comparisons?
“I can’t take it because that’s a championship team. If we end up winning it all this year then I’ll take it, but I don’t want to disrespect that championship team. I think we do play unselfish like that team did, but I don’t want anyone comparing us to them. Not yet, anyway.”
· Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers small forward …
“He’s the coach who won the championship back in ’77, so I know he’s huge for this organization, this city and this team. When I heard the news this morning I was sad because I had a chance to meet him a couple times and talk to him. He was a great person, a great coach, a great guy.”
· Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers point guard …
“There’s one championship and he was the guy to bring it here. So obviously him passing away is a tough day for Rip City. Hopefully, I can be a part of a team that can bring that back here. It’s a sad day.”
· Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers shooting guard …
It’s tough news to hear after such an exciting time and moment for Portland. He’ll be missed, but what he did for the NBA, what he did for basketball and especially what he did for Portland, he’ll be missed. His legacy is always going to live on .
· Dorell Wright, Trail Blazers small forward …
“I had the opportunity to meet him a few times. He was a great person. I really didn’t know the history behind him, just because I was so young. But my encounters with him were great moments. Basketball definitely lost a legend. Condolences to him at his family.”
· The Oregonian’s editorial board on Ramsay’s passing …
Jack Ramsay, who died Monday at 89, led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, but that’s only part of why Ramsay was a beloved figure in Portland. Ramsay, quite simply, was Portland. In fact, in many ways Ramsay was decades ahead of his time.
Consider Ramsay’s Portland resume. He frequently rode a bicycle, ate health foods, practiced yoga and promoted physical fitness. He gave his players books to read. He had a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania but coached basketball. In other words, he was willing to be different. And Ramsay did all of this in the 1970s, long before vegetarian restaurants and bicycle lanes became commonplace and before MAX light rail or the Pearl District existed.
Ramsay and star player Bill Walton were embodiments of the modern Portland ethos. “They would have loved the food carts,” said Jim Pasero, a Portland political consultant who spent time around the team as the son of former Oregon Journal sports editor George Pasero.
Looking back, I was far too inexperienced, and Ramsay far too intense, to find the common ground of a better story than Kiki Vandeweghe. I didn’t realize how precious and unique our access was in that bygone era.
These things happen when you’re losing. In all the time we had together, I should have asked about Ramsay’s stint in the Navy or his adventures with the Sunbury Mercuries in the old Eastern League or the point-shaving scandal when he was coaching at St. Joe’s or what he did right and wrong with his five children.
Heck, I should have picked up a few pointers about what it takes to stay in shape when you hit your late 50s.
I’d grown up a little when I last spoke to Ramsay, 10 years after he left Portland. I stopped by his summer home in Ocean City, N.J., a place that means the world to both of us. He was surprised to see me, and gracious and forgiving with my questions.
And that’s how I would remember him, sitting on his back porch between long swims in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, but for that photograph at Laurelhurst Market.
Dwight Jaynes, who covered Ramsay toward the end of his coaching career in Portland, on the man many knew as “Dr. Jack” …
“We’d go to dinner and you wouldn’t see him drawing up plays on a napkin,” said his trusted athletic trainer at the time, Ron Culp, who later served the Miami Heat. “Wins and losses made a difference, but they didn’t dominate his life like a lot of other coaches. There was more to life for Jack than just the bouncing ball.”
When we’d have an off day in New York, Ramsay would arrange for Culp to grab tickets to a Broadway show. In other towns, there were museums to see or music to hear. The memories of those off nights on the road with Jack burn brightly for all those who shared them. Dave Twardzik, a starting guard on the championship team who went on to serve as the team’s radio analyst for a spell, remembers them fondly.
“As good of a coach as he was, he was a better person,” said Twardzik, who now works at Old Dominion, his alma mater. “I loved being around him off the court. He had a tremendous sense of humor. The demeanor you saw on the sidelines was nothing like what you saw off the court.”
Culp said, “[He had] a great sense of humor — I learned a billion things from him, but the best thing I learned was an ability to laugh at myself.”
Even with a great sense of humor and resiliency, Ramsay took losses hard. Sometimes very hard. He was legendary for his long walks after tough games.
“One night we played the Detroit Pistons when they were still downtown, in Cobo Hall,” Culp said. “It was in kind of a rough neighborhood.
“Jack was a great walker after losses. And his walk was more like a jog for anyone else. We lost, so he wanted to walk back to the hotel. So we’re walking down the street and some guy jumps out of the back of a station wagon carrying a spare tire.
“He’d just stolen it out of that guy’s car. Anyway, the guy starts running with the tire and goes down a dark alley. Jack looks at me and says, ‘Let’s get him.’
“In Detroit at midnight and chasing a guy down a back alley? I looked at Jack and said, ‘Are you nuts?’”
· A photo gallery of Jack Ramsay in all his plaid suited glory.
· Here’s a collection of remembrances from some of the many broadcasters and personalities he worked with during his time as a broadcaster for ESPN.
· An excerpt from one of Ramsay’s books “Dr. Jack On Winning Basketball” …
I went through my entire athletic life as a basketball player with only minimal physical setbacks, the worst being a couple of brain concussions, one in a college game in 1948, the other in 1954 while playing in the Eastern League, from which I recovered without permanent damage.
And all the stress and general wear and tear on body and soul from 37 years of coaching at the high school, college, and professional levels? Hard to measure, of course, but I don’t regret a single minute that I spent on the sidelines of the game to which I’ve devoted my entire adult life.
Then, in 1999, a routine medical exam turned up an opponent I hadn’t reckoned with — prostate cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early on, and after radiation therapy and a procedure that shot radioactive iodine pellets into the prostate gland, my doctors assured me that they’d gotten it all. Arranging my treatments around my work schedule, I didn’t miss a single game that season as a TV color commentator with the Miami Heat.
I didn’t tell anyone about my condition, not even my family. Why worry them? I was convinced I could overcome the Big C on my own. I tried to live as I usually did, getting in my daily run and swim workouts at the beach and staying on top of my duties at home caring for my wife and on the job doing television commentary for ESPN and the Miami Heat. I felt a little more fatigue than normal during workouts on radiation treatment days, but other than that I felt fine. My most recent scans in the fall of 2010 revealed no tumors anywhere.
But in October 2004 I went up against the toughest opponent I had yet to face anywhere at any time in my life — melanoma cancer. It started tamely enough, with three small spots under the skin on the instep of my left foot. I’d been running barefoot a lot on the beach near our summer home in Ocean City, N.J., and I figured I must have picked up a few thorns. No big deal. But the spots didn’t go away, so I had them examined back in Florida that fall by my dermatologist, Dr. Jerry Lugo, who ordered up biopsies “just to be on the safe side.” Two days later Dr. Lugo called with the results: melanoma.
· A feature written for Sports Illustrated in 1982 about Ramsay entitled “A Man Who Never Lets Down” …
Jack Ramsay is seated at a back table in one of Portland’s most elegant seafood restaurants, and he makes a stunning attraction for all present. Foremost, there’s the hedgerow of a brow dividing the famous bald head from the cool, slitted eyes and the chiseled Irish face. Ramsay is perhaps the most recognizable citizen of what he calls “the big little city” or “the little big city” of Portland—indeed of the entire state of Oregon. Had he been dining with Robert Redford, the other patrons would have been whispering, “Who’s that guy eating with Jack Ramsay?”
For that reason he’s less than comfortable at this moment, and he barely resembles the highly animated Coach Ramsay of the sidelines. For one thing, he’s wearing a dapper navy blazer with an open-collared powder-blue shirt, charcoal slacks and soft black loafers. Until very recently, he was a vision in clashing plaids, checks and paisleys on game nights. His expression is serene, quite unlike that on his game face, and he’s wearing thick bifocals so he can read the menu. Still, he must hold the menu close and squint, and the combination of the glasses and the squinting adds 15 years to his appearance. Not that he cares. Ramsay is funny about expressing his thoughts. Either he’s circumspect, selecting and enunciating his words precisely—as when explaining his philosophy or his strategy or in discussing a player or a loss—or he loses control and babbles like an adolescent when he’s happy, like a bull Irishman when he’s mad.
He laughs when someone tries to make an issue of his age—aren’t you too old to be riding that bicycle that hard?—as people often do. Seeing him in his training sweats or in his swimsuit, you’d say he has the body a 25-year-old would envy. And how many 57-year-olds are entering and finishing triathlons nowadays?
Ramsay is certainly more comfortable pedaling his bicycle the 110 miles from Portland to the Pacific, or swimming miles in the Atlantic off his summer home on the New Jersey shore, or kneeling on the sidelines orchestrating another Trail Blazers game than he is sitting here in his debonair restaurant rags with people watching him nibbling salmon pâté, spooning oyster bisque and sipping an Oregon chablis—Buy Oregon is a seriously taken commandment nowadays in that economically depressed state. That’s because Ramsay’s image is something of a sham. In his life the dominating aroma is, and always has been, sweat
· Here’s audio from the Jun3 5, 1977 edition of “The Jack Ramsay Show” …
· Dan Patrick eulogizes his friend and former colleague …