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Jack Ramsay, an astute student and teacher of the game of basketball as a player, NBA Championship-winning coach, team executive and broadcaster for more than 70 years, has died. He was 89.
ESPN on Monday announced the death of Ramsay, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, after a long battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and several years ago received treatment for multiple melanomas.
“Dr. Jack Ramsay has passed,” ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca wrote on Twitter. “A rare man. Loved and respected by all. Fascinating life well lived. An inspiration to so many.”
Affectionately nicknamed “Dr. Jack” (he earned a doctorate degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania), Ramsay had been an NBA regular at courtside for ESPN from 1996 until this past May. He called games for ESPN Radio for nearly 15 years alongside play-by-play man Jim Durham, who died suddenly in November 2012.
In May, Ramsay said he needed to begin immediate medical treatment for an undisclosed illness and that his broadcasting career was likely over. “I will miss the association with the players and coaches,” he told The Miami Herald. “It has been a great ride.”
“He doesn’t think he knows everything, and he frankly does know everything,” ESPN/ABC play-by-play announcer Mike Breen told Sports Illustrated in June. “But he still thinks he can learn from others.”
After he resigned as coach of the Indiana Pacers early in the 1988-89 season, Ramsay worked local telecasts for the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. He did Heat games from 1992 through 2000; admired for his no-nonsense approach, he became one of South Florida’s most popular announcers.
Ramsay guided the Portland Trail Blazers, led by Bill Walton, to the 1977 NBA title in his first season there. He won his other ring in his first season as GM of the Sixers when that team, powered by Wilt Chamberlain, took the 1966-67 crown. (Ramsay famously traded Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers following that season after the 7-foot-1 center threatened to jump to the American Basketball Association if he wasn’t sent to the West Coast.)
“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 how Ramsay dressed when he coached the club.
Ramsay also coached the Sixers as well as the Buffalo Braves (before they moved to San Diego to become the Clippers) and posted a record of 864-783 in 21 seasons as an NBA coach. When he left the bench, only Boston’s Red Auerbach had amassed more pro victories. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
“Just as an athlete must exercise his body to be a winner, a leader must exercise his position of authority. If he doesn’t, he loses that authority,” Ramsay wrote of his philosophy in his 2004 book, Dr. Jack’s Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball.
A legend in Philadelphia, Ramsay attended Upper Darby High School and in 1949 graduated from Saint Joseph’s College, where he played and then coached for 11 seasons, finishing with a 234-72 record. The Ramsay Basketball Center on campus is named in his honor.
“Great man,” Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson, who played at Saint Joseph’s, wrote on Twitter. “The Greatest Hawk ever. He will be missed but never Forgotten.”
Late in life, Ramsay still swam a mile a day in the ocean near his home in Naples, Fla., and was an avid rope-jumper. A fitness fanatic who served in the U.S. Navy as a platoon officer on an underwater demolition team, he competed in a triathlon at age 70.
His college sweetheart and wife of 60 years, Jean, died in January 2010. They had five children, including son Chris, an editor at ESPN, and 13 grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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