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Jack Ramsay


Jack Ramsay's Hall of Fame coaching career bridged pro basketball's blue-collar past and its flashy, sneaker-commercial present. He worked his way up through high school and minor-league coaching, through ten successful years at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, to become the general manager and then the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. In 1967–68, his first season as GM, the Sixers won the NBA championship, but Ramsay was forced to trade Wilt Chamberlain and other stars, and the team's performance tapered off, beginning a pattern of early success and gradual decline that repeated throughout Ramsay's career. After four years in Buffalo, turning the woeful Buffalo Braves into a playoff team, he took over the floundering Portland Trail Blazers, who'd never had a winning season. Buoyed by a breakout year from center Bill Walton, the Blazers won the NBA title in 1976–77, making Ramsay the first coach ever to win both an NCAA Final Four spot and an NBA championship.

Ramsay spent a decade in Portland, with mostly successful results, but he never recaptured the glory of his first season there. (The Blazers' challenging 1979–80 season is detailed in David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, often included on lists of the all-time best sports books.) The team-focused game that he championed began to give way to a more star-focused model, and Ramsay ended his coaching career with a brief stint in Indiana before transitioning to a much-praised commentator role for the Miami Heat and ESPN.

A triathlete into his old age, Ramsay was an early and passionate advocate of rigorous physical conditioning for pro athletes, and his teamwork-based approach endeared him to his players. "The thing about Jack was he allowed freedom within the team concept," said Johnny Davis. "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." Bill Walton described him as "the conquest of substance over hype."

Jack Ramsay died of cancer on April 28. He was 89. Bill Schenley, Deceased Hose, Drunkasaskunk, Ed V, and Gerard Tierney get 5 points each for the hit.


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