Hall of Fame NBA coach Jack Ramsay died Monday after a long battle with cancer.
Ramsay was 89 and coached 20 seasons in the NBA, with 864 career victories and a 1977 title with the Portland Trail Blazers. He also won an NBA championship as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
When Ramsay was hired in 1976, the Trail Blazers franchise was six years old and never had a winning season. In the 1977 Finals, the Blazers knocked off Julius Erving and the 76ers after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference final.
He coached nine seasons with the Blazers and spent almost two seasons with the Indiana Pacers.
"He was the first coach I hired with the Pacers. He was a wonderful choice, got us in the playoffs for the second time in our NBA history and got us our first NBA Playoff victory," said Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh, who worked closely with Ramsay as the team's general manager. "During his time, we drafted Rik Smits and Reggie Miller and he was a tremendous teacher, a master, for young players like those two, helping them get off to a great start in their careers. I knew he was a great coach, but once I got to know him, he was a better man."
Before going to Portland, Ramsay coaching the 76ers and spent four years with the Buffalo franchise that became the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Dr. Jack Ramsay was a legendary figure in Philadelphia and a man whose passion and contributions to this city and the game of basketball will long be remembered," said Scott O'Neil, CEO of the 76ers. "He left an indelible mark on the basketball community -- from the Big 5 to our organization and throughout his storied career within the NBA -- and was a friend and mentor to those who knew him, both on and off the court. On behalf of the Sixers organization, we truly mourn the loss and send our deepest condolences to the entire Ramsay family."
He was a recognizable analyst for ESPN television and radio in 1991, becoming known as "Dr. Jack," for his deep knowledge and advice to players and coaches, who often reached out for consultation. In 1992, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
"People respected his knowledge, his truthfulness, his insight of seeing all 10 players on every play, and the passion that he had," said former coach and NBA broadcaster Hubie Brown in a 2013 Sports Illustrated story. "Jack Ramsay is the ultimate, a basketball treasure."
Ramsay was a Navy demolition diver, the specialized training unit predating the SEALs, trained with great intensity into his 80s, swimming triathalon distances and running long miles at an 8-minute pace. In Portland, he required Bill Walton and all players to complete a mile in seven minutes to clear them in training camp.
"This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world," said Miami Heat president Pat Riley. "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."
Born in Philadelphia, Ramsay enlisted to serve in World War II while at St. Joseph's College and returned to be a basketball captain and later head coach (1955). He coached St. Joseph's for 11 years, including 10 tournament appearances and the 1961 Final Four. "
Before coaching the 76ers, he was general manager of the franchise.
"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," said Pacers president Larry Bird.