Photo by SJU Athletics

Dr. Jack Ramsay 1925-2014

Wesley Matthews snuck in the passing lane and stole the ball from the Houston Rockets with just seconds left in overtime to secure victory for the Portland Trailblazers in their first round playoff match up. The win puts Portland up 3-1 in the series and as close as they have been to the second round of the playoffs in 13 years.

As fans filed out of the building formally known as the Rose Garden, Portlandia was on a basketball high, one that hasn’t been felt in decades. To the older Blazer fan, these moments could stir up memories when the Pacific Northwest housed the best team in the NBA. Back when shorts were shorter, hair was longer, and Bill Walton… well he was still Bill Walton, just less yoga classes.

The year was 1977 and man with a thick Philadelphia accent and a wide collar led Portland to their only NBA title in team history. That man was Dr. Jack Ramsay. A day after a stirring win, that will more than likely advance Portland to the next round, their greatest leader left this world.

Jack Ramsay was a native of Upper Darby, though he was Philadelphia through and through. He graduated from Upper Darby High school in 1942, before going up City Line Avenue to attend Saint Joseph’s College (later renamed Saint Joseph’s University).

After becoming a local hoops legend as a player, he entered World War II in the pacific theater, but never saw action. Eventually, at he ripe old age of 21, he would be a captain in the US Navy on a ship that patrolled the Marshall Islands.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s in 1949. His masters and doctorate were earned at the University of Pennsylvania, the latter earned two years after taking the Hawks to the NCAA Final Four in 1961.

He left Hawk Hill in 1966 to be the General Manager of your Philadelphia 76ers. In his first season with the franchise, the 76ers won their second of three championships. In 1968 he took over as head coach of his hometown team and held the position until 1972 when he went to coach the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers).

He would cement his basketball legend in his next coaching stop in Portland. A member of the 1977 team, Bill Walton, as he often does, eloquently put Dr. Ramsay’s contribution to the basketball world into words. In a 2007 interview with USA Today, Walton stated, “Jack’s life is a beacon which guides us all. He is our moral compass, our spiritual inspiration. He represents the conquest of substance over hype. He is a true saint of circumstance.”

He coached in Portland of 10 years, heading to his last coaching spot of Indiana in 1986. He would hang up the whistle for good two years later and finally unleashed his basketball mind on the world.

Many coaches have made the transition between the sidelines and the broadcast booth. But few made it it as smoothy as Ramsay. He spent his first years as a color analyst for the 76ers, then the Miami Heat before taking a position at ESPN. His popularity grew and with it, his lure.

He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

In 2009, Saint Joseph’s dedicated the Dr Jack Ramsay Basketball Center to the longtime coach. This now serves as SJU’s home of basketball operations. The outpour of affections from his Alma Mater has come during a difficult time.

“Saint Joseph’s University joins the basketball and broadcasting community in mourning one of its own, Dr. Jack Ramsay ’49,” said a statement from Saint Joseph’s. “Dr. Jack was so much more than a coach. For generations, he was a teacher, scholar, ambassador and icon. Today, there are heavy hearts at the Ramsay Basketball Center for a magnificent person and his family. There was simply no greater Hawk than Dr. Jack.”

76ers CEO Scott O’Neil had this to say on the passing, “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. 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.”

Ramsay died in his sleep after a long and private battle with cancer on Monday. It wasn’t his only battle with cancer, however like most challenges in life, he faced them head on with out showing it to the public. The icon passed away in Naples, Florida at the age of 89.

1925-2014. The Hawk Will Never Die!

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