MIAMI – Jack Ramsay served his country in World War II, coached Portland to the NBA title, was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and became one of the game’s most respected and revered broadcasters.
His life was, by any measure, complete.
“Our father led the greatest life that one could lead,” the Ramsay family said in a statement released Monday, hours after the man that just about everyone in basketball called “Dr. Jack” died in Naples, Florida, at the age of 89.
No cause of death was announced, but Ramsay had fought several forms of cancer for many years and more recently was diagnosed with a marrow syndrome. Ramsay ended his broadcasting career with ESPN last year because of health problems and word came last week that he had been placed into hospice care.
“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,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.
Added Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who was close to Ramsay for many years: “This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world. The game has lost a giant.”
Ramsay coached in the NBA for parts of 21 seasons before embarking on a second career as an NBA analyst, eventually working for ESPN.
“Jack was a great man,” Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird said, “and I don’t use that term lightly.”
“He was that rarest of men with a unique style that was inspirational and motivational about basketball and life itself,” said Paul Allen, who owns the Trail Blazers.
Ramsay enjoyed enormous popularity within the league. To commemorate his 89th birthday this year, Portland coach Terry Stotts wore a loud checkered jacket and open-collared shirt for a Blazers game — a nod to Ramsay’s style of dress when he coached the club.
“Jack’s life is a beacon which guides us all,” Bill Walton, who was on Ramsay’s 1977 title team in Portland, told USA Today in 2007. “He is our moral compass, our spiritual inspiration. He represents the conquest of substance over hype. He is a true saint of circumstance.”
John T. Ramsay was born Feb. 21, 1925, in Philadelphia and enrolled at Saint Joseph’s in 1942, eventually becoming captain of the basketball team for his senior season. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1949, which explains the “Dr. Jack” moniker.
Ramsay’s began coaching Saint Joseph’s in 1955. He was wildly successful there, going 234-72 and taking the Hawks to the NCAA tournament seven times and the Final Four in 1961.
Ramsay was 864-783 in his NBA career with the 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Trail Blazers and Pacers and in 1996 was honored as one of the league’s all-time top 10 coaches.