Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay died Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 89.
Known for his progressive attitudes toward training and his unique fashion style, Ramsay compiled an 864-783 (.525) record during a 21-year career that began in 1968 and included stops with the Philadelphia 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers. He guided the Blazers to the 1977 championship, the only title in franchise history, and served as general manager of the title-winning 1966-67 Sixers.
After retiring from coaching in 1989, Ramsay transitioned into a successful broadcasting career on both television and radio. Ramsay continued as a color commentator for ESPN Radio until 2013, when his health forced him out of the booth.
"Today, the NBA family mourns the loss of one of the true legends of our game, Dr. Jack Ramsay," commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "From his coaching tenure to his broadcast work, Dr. Jack left an indelible mark on every facet of our game and on every person he came in contact with, including me. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and many friends.”
Nicknamed "Dr. Jack" because he held a doctorate degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania, Ramsay authored multiple books, including The Coach's Art and Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball.
"People respected his knowledge, his truthfulness, his insight of seeing all 10 players on every play, and the passion that he had," ESPN analyst Hubie Brown told Sports Illustrated last year. "Jack Ramsay is the ultimate, a basketball treasure."
Ramsay was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. He was named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history in 1997.
Sports Illustrated profiled Ramsay in 1982 with a headline that read, "A Man Who Never Lets Down."
Ramsay is, by nearly unanimous agreement of his peers, not only the leading X-and-O man in pro basketball but also the best motivator. In addition, he's also the leader, both spiritually and politically, of the NBA Coaches' Association, which has elected him its president five years in a row. "He's the guy everybody calls when they have a problem," says Coach Jack McKinney of the Pacers, Ramsay's closest friend for 25 years. "He'll never stop trying to help anyone."
In The Coach's Art, Ramsay explained why he loved basketball.
"What is this game that runs through my mind? It is a ballet, a graceful sweep and flow of patterned movement, counterpoised by daring and imaginative flights of solitary brilliance. It is a dance which begins with opposition contesting every move. But in the exhilaration of a great performance, the opposition vanishes. The dancer does as he pleases. The game is unified action up and down the floor. It is quickness, it is strength; it is skill, it is stamina; it is five men playing as one...It is the solidarity of a single unifying purpose, the will to overcome adversity, the determination never to give in. It is winning; it is winning; it is winning!"
Tributes to Ramsay from around the NBA community poured in on Monday.
Blazers owner Paul Allen: "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. 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.”
Heat owner Micky Arison: "The Heat family has lost a great man today. When I first bought the team, we had no basketball organization in place and Dr. Jack was the first person who I turned to for advice. So for a few days, he was the entire basketball organization for the Miami HEAT. Over the years I often turned to him for advice and he will be sorely missed by us all. My deepest sympathies to his family and all that loved him."
Pacers owner Herb Simon: "The Indiana Pacers express their sincerest sorrow at the passing of Dr. Jack Ramsay. When my brother, Melvin, and I bought the Pacers he was one of our first coaches and took us to our first NBA Playoff series. Jack was a good, humble man who gave us our first taste of success in the NBA. This is a loss for the sport of basketball, not just the Pacers. We send our condolences to his family, in particular his daughter, Sharon, who became part of our family when her husband, Jim, coached the Pacers."
Heat president Pat Riley: "This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world. The game has lost a giant today. Dr. Jack Ramsay meant a great deal to me as a mentor when I was coaching and while I've been with the Heat running the team. Our sympathies go out to his family and to all the people who really cared about Jack and what he's meant to them and what he's meant to this game. His legacy will live on through all the coaches and all the player's he's had relationships with over the years."
Pacers president Larry Bird: "Jack was a great man and I don’t use that term lightly. His contributions to the game, as a coach, advisor, broadcaster will endure forever. I remember talking to Jack, either in Florida, or when he came to our training camp when Jim O’Brien was the coach. I always learned something from him. This is a sad day for all of us in basketball and a sad day for anyone who knew Jack.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, via the San Antonio Express-News: "Dr. Jack was a good friend, a mentor, somebody I respected very much. He helped us in our program, actually came in and worked with [Tim Duncan] a while back when Timmy was a youngster. Great coach. Just a great teacher, and a really, really neat person. He’s somebody that was really special to a lot of us. We’ll really miss him. He’s been fighting hard for a long time. He’ll be missed.” Chris Ramsay, ESPN editor and son of Jack Ramsay: "No matter what we say about Jack Ramsay today, it will seem inadequate. It won't be enough. He led such a great life. He did so many great things. He was a great man, a giver. In his public life, he was famous, a Hall of Famer, a world champion. He had colorful friends named Cotton and Hubie and Halberstam and Talese. He traveled the world teaching, coaching and broadcasting. He brought Wilt Chamberlain home for dinner. He was a basketball genius, a true innovator. He taught a team game. A pure form of basketball. Sharing and giving. With the right personnel, it was unbeatable."