Dr. Jack Ramsay Left Lasting Impression On, Off The Court

Dr. Jack Ramsay, shown here coaching the Blazers in 1985, gave former Wolves coach Rick Adelman (pictured, upper right-hand corner of Ramsay) his first assistant coaching position in the NBA. Dr. Jack passed away on Monday, according to an ESPN report. He was 89.
Brian Drake/NBAE/Getty Images
by Mark Remme
Web Editor

I met Dr. Jack Ramsay last year during 2013 All-Star Weekend in Houston. We were working on a collection of features in advance of Rick Adelman’s 1,000th win, and given Ramsay initially hired Adelman to his first NBA assistant coaching position with Portland we hoped to get his take on what made Rick so successful throughout his career.

Dr. Jack agreed to meet with us for the interview during the annual All-Star media circuit at the players’ hotel. He was busy doing his own work—I believe he was either doing podcasts or live radio segments for ESPN—but he carved out 10-15 minutes of his day to talk with us about one of the coaches he saw promise in so many years ago.

Before we started our interview, Ramsay was just wrapping up his radio segment and got a quick visitor who peeked his head in the door. It was Kevin Garnett. KG didn’t stay long—he just waited until Dr. Jack was through with his on-air interview, then went over and gave him a big hug. They embraced and said hello, and then Garnett went off to fulfill the rest of his media interviews and Ramsay moved on to chat with us.

He was gracious, insightful, humble and incredibly knowledgeable. And in those 15 minutes I spent with Dr. Jack Ramsay, I got a small sampling of why he was so beloved and revered all across the NBA. His willingness to talk about Adelman, his incredible passion and knowledge about the sport and his ability to connect with players across all generations all were on full display on that sunny afternoon in Houston.

Dr. Jack Ramsay died on Monday night in Naples, Fla., according to an ESPN report. He was 89.

Ramsay was an innovative thinker and motivator at all levels throughout his basketball career, which included stops as coach at St. Joseph’s University, general manager of the 76ers and coach of the 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers. He won 864 games in his career, including 1976-77 NBA championship in Portland. It’s a title that is still celebrated to this day as it’s the only NBA championship in team history.

And it was in 1983 that Ramsay, still coaching the Blazers, made a choice. He was looking for an assistant. Among the candidates were two coaches that would, in time, help change the offensive landscape of the NBA: Rick Adelman and George Karl.

Adelman hadn’t coached in the NBA, although he was successful at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore. During that time, Adelman got to know Ramsay a bit—often going to Blazers games and chatting with Ramsay afterwards. It was during those encounters that Ramsay got a feel for Adelman’s ability to lead and to coach.

“To make the choice over George Karl was a hard decision, but Rick had such an interest in being just an assistant, to move up from the junior college ranks to be involved in the NBA, that I thought this would be a good match,” Ramsay said. “I liked his personality, I liked his knowledge of the game, the rapport he established with his players.” 

Ramsay said Adelman showed signs along the way of becoming a great coach, and part of it was the way he showcased rapport with his players and the way he communicated. Ramsay said Adelman had a deep and thorough knowledge of the game and how to implement strategy.

In many ways, Ramsay used words to describe Adelman that others used to describe him. Maybe that was a reason why Ramsay decided to go with Adelman in the first place. Either decision would have been successful—both Adelman and Karl became 1,000-win coaches.

There’s no doubt Adelman attributes much of his future success to the opportunity Ramsay gave him back in the early 1980s.

“He gave me a chance,” Adelman said. “It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” 

The outpouring of support for Ramsay and his family today are just another testament to the type of person he was both on and off the court. He’s remembered as a fierce competitor, an incredibly passionate ambassador for the game and a teacher through and through.

But more importantly than that, he was a thoughtful and caring person—one that was able to influence generations of people if he worked with them for years or spent 15 minutes with them during a one-time interview.

I fall into the latter category, and I feel fortunate to have that memory. Dr. Jack Ramsay will be greatly missed.

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