Dr. Jack Ramsay, Former NBA Coach and Hall of Famer, Passes Away at Age 89

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

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Dr. Jack Ramsay, one of the greatest NBA coaches of his time and a legendary broadcaster whose infallible knowledge enlightened fans for decades in his post-coaching days, died in his sleep early Monday morning.

He was 89.

Ramsay's family announced his passing on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike program. Mike Greenberg, one of the co-hosts, took to Twitter following the announcement to send his condolences:

ESPN.com later confirmed Ramsay's passing. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday, though details on private and public viewings have not been specified.

Over the past 15 years, Ramsay dealt with various forms of cancer. In 1999, he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer. Five years later, he was diagnosed with melanoma before experiencing bladder cancer and tumors both in his brain and lungs. As noted by Jason Quick of The Oregonian, Ramsay's latest health scare with a bone marrow disease proved to be too much.

The legendary coach spent his final days in hospice care at his Naples, Florida, home. He was surrounded by friends and family, each of whom were able to reminisce in Ramsay's final days about a man whose impact—both on and off the court—touched so many.

Ramsay was an NBA coach for parts of 21 seasons. He made relatively short stops in Philadelphia, Buffalo and Indiana. But nowhere was Dr. Jack more appreciated nor his legacy more celebrated than in the Rose City.

1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers
1976-77 Portland Trail BlazersNBA Photos/Getty Images

In his first season with the Trail Blazers, Ramsay led Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and an eclectic group of Portland stars to the franchise's first and only NBA championship. The first six years of the franchise prior to Ramsay's arrival went without so much as a playoff appearance.

In his decade at the helm, Portland missed the playoffs just once. While myriad factors—most notably injuries, specifically to Walton—altered the trajectory of those late-1970s Blazers teams, Ramsay remains far and away Portland's most successful head coach. The team made three conference semifinals to go along with the 1976-77 championship.

What stood out most about Ramsay's teams was his unrelenting commitment to teamwork. No one was above criticism when they made a mistake—nor were they immune from praise. Ramsay, even as the pressure mounted in those post-title years, as David Halberstam's brilliant book The Breaks of the Game noted, was a bastion of consistency and trust for his team.

As former player Johnny Davis told Quick:

The thing about Jack was he allowed freedom within the team concept. We were like a great jazz band, where each person could solo, but he had to come back to the group to keep the groove moving forward. Then, the next person might have a chance to solo the next night, but he needed the beat of the rest of us.

Ramsay's tenure in Portland ended following the 1985-86 season, after which he took over the Pacers for a short and mostly ill-fated stint. He resigned and walked away from coaching for good seven games into his third season on the bench.

Ramsay was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 and compiled an 864-783 overall record as a head coach.

"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?" Ramsay wrote in 2011, questioning whether his coaching had anything to do with his health struggles. "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."

After stepping away from the profession that made him so famous, Ramsay found a second captive audience in broadcasting. Boasting the same inclusiveness and vast knowledge of the game he displayed in Portland, he grew almost instantly into one of television's finest color commentators.

Ramsay worked color with the Miami Heat and other franchises but is best known for his work at ESPN and ESPN Radio. He stepped away following last season when his health began to worsen.

Although Ramsay was out of the public spotlight for almost the entire last year of his life, his impact could be felt everywhere. Jeff Van Gundy's combination of knowledge and candor comes from the same place Ramsay's once did in the booth. Earlier this season, Blazers coach Terry Stotts honored Ramsay by wearing a 1970s-style plaid jacket.

“He has left a mark on so many people in our profession,’’ Stotts told Quick. “I can only wish him well and hope that he is comfortable.’’

Anyone who came into contact with Ramsay throughout his life has shared a similar sentiment. But even if Dr. Jack is no longer with us to share his stories, his impact on the game is far from over.

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