Jack Ramsay

This article is about the basketball coach. For the Canadian politician, see Jack Ramsay (politician).
Jack Ramsay
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1925-02-21)February 21, 1925
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died April 28, 2014(2014-04-28) (aged 89)
Naples, Florida
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1955–1966 Saint Joseph's Hawks
1968–1972 Philadelphia 76ers
1972–1976 Buffalo Braves
1976–1986 Portland Trail Blazers
1986–1988 Indiana Pacers
Head coaching record
Overall NBA: 864–783 (.525)[1]
Accomplishments and honors
Philadelphia 76ers (1967) (as GM)
Portland Trail Blazers (1977) (as Head coach)

Enshrined into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992)

Top 10 Coaches in NBA History (1996)[2]
Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1992
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

John Travilla "Jack" Ramsay (February 21, 1925 April 28, 2014) was an American basketball coach, commonly known as "Dr. Jack" (as he held an earned doctorate, see below). He was best known for coaching the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA Title, and for his broadcasting work with the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, and for ESPN TV and ESPN Radio. Ramsay was among the most respected coaches in NBA history[2] and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was the winner of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2009–10 NBA season.[3]

Early life

Growing up in Milford, Connecticut, Jack Ramsay was encouraged to participate in sports in grade school by his parents, Anne and John. With his family moving to a Philadelphia suburb, Ramsay graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1942. Years after playing basketball, baseball and soccer in high school, he was inducted into the school's Wall of Fame in 1979.[4] Strongly encouraged by his mother to attend college, Ramsay entered Saint Joseph's College. Ramsay's college career was interrupted by three years of service in the US Navy during World War II. Ramsay played both basketball and baseball at St. Joseph's. In his senior year, Ramsay was coached in baseball by Pep Young, a teammate of professional baseball star Ty Cobb. In 1949, Ramsay became the first member of his family to receive a college bachelor's degree. In 1962, Ramsay obtained his master's degree and in 1963 his doctorate degree in education, both from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

After graduation, Ramsay played six seasons of professional basketball in the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball League. As a sophomore playing guard, he was the second-leading scorer for the Harrisburg Senators in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Ramsay averaged 14 points in his career playing for the Senators and the Sunbury, Pennsylvania professional team. To supplement his playing income, he coached basketball at St. James High School in Chester, Pennsylvania and later at Mount Pleasant High School, 1953-4, in Wilmington, Delaware.[5]

Coaching career


After coaching in the high school and minor-league ranks during the early postwar years, Ramsay became head coach at St Joseph's in 1955. Ramsay got the job after accidentally meeting the college's moderator of athletics at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. Ramsay was hired as coach for the 1955-56 basketball season for $3,500.

In Ramsay's first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. This first season also marked the school's first-ever postseason playoff berth, in which St Joseph placed third in the NIT after losing to Dayton University. Ramsay would remain at St. Joseph's through 1966, leading the Hawks to six more Big 5 crowns, five straight seasons of first-place finishes in the Middle Atlantic Conference, ten postseason appearances, and a Final Four stint in 1961.

At age 41, after leading his team to a 24-5 record in 1965-66, Ramsay was diagnosed with an edema on the retina of his right eye. Ramsay left his coaching job with the Hawks on the doctors' recommendation that he reduce stress. Ramsay finished with a record of 234-72 in 11 years.[5] He would remain the winningest coach in St. Joseph's history until current coach Phil Martelli passed him in 2005.


Philadelphia 76ers

After leaving St Joseph's, Ramsay was hired as general manager by the Philadelphia 76ers. Team owner Irv Kosloff gave Ramsay a three-year $25,000 deal. In Ramsay's first season, the 76ers won the NBA title after finishing 68-13, then the best record in NBA history. The team averaged 125 points with Wilt Chamberlain contributing an average of 24 points, 24 rebounds and eight assists per game. However, Ramsay was forced trade Chamberlain and Chet Walker, receiving little value in return.

In 1968, Ramsay became the 76ers head coach. In Ramsay's first game coaching an NBA team, the 76ers zone press won 114-96 against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Spectrum, even though Lakers players Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain combined for 71 points. The 76ers finished that first season with Coach Ramsay 55-27. The 76ers led the NBA in scoring (119 points per game) as a result of Ramsay's style of aggressive pressing defense.

In his four seasons as 76ers coach, Ramsay led the team to three playoff appearances. While the 76ers continued to be contenders, the team was much weaker than in previous seasons.The team's collapse came in 1971–72, when the 76ers posted to 30-52 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in team history.

Buffalo Braves

After the 1971-72 season, Ramsay became the head coach of the Buffalo Braves. After compiling a losing 21-61 record in that first season in Buffalo, Ramsay had the team double their win total the next season by finishing first among the league's 17 teams in offense (111.6) even though they were last in defense (111.8). That second season in Buffalo had Ramsay leading the Braves to the playoffs, where they pushed the eventual champion Celtics to six games in the conference semifinals.[5] His Buffalo tenure was almost a mirror image of his time with the Sixers—four seasons, three playoff berths; however, he did not leave Buffalo in the sort of wreckage that had occurred in Philadelphia. Instead, owner Paul Snyder was in the process of selling the team to out-of-town interests (the economy of Western New York was unable to support both the Braves and hockey's Sabres as evidenced by the Braves' attendance figures at the time but Snyder lost interest) and Ramsay requested not to be a part of the upheaval.[6] In his four seasons with the Braves, Ramsay compiled a record of 158-170.

Portland Trail Blazers

In 1976, Ramsay became the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. When Ramsay arrived, the Blazers had not made the playoffs or compiled a winning season record in their six-year history. However, a young Blazers team, led by Bill Walton, was starting to gel. Ramsay also benefited from the 1976 ABA dispersal draft, in which the Blazers obtained power forward Maurice Lucas.

Jack Ramsay and his wife Jean in a parade celebrating Portland's championship in 1977.

In his first season in Portland (1977), Ramsay led the Blazers to their first NBA title. In his second season, the Blazers were 50–10 after 60 games and favored to repeat as NBA champions. However, Walton broke his foot, ending the Blazers' winning prospects. Ramsay continued to coach the Blazers until 1986 with general success. However, he never equaled the achievements of his first seasons. During Ramsay's last nine seasons in Portland, the Blazers only won two playoff series. He also coached the Western Conference side in the 1978 All-Star Game.

Indiana Pacers

Ramsay took over as coach of the Indiana Pacers for the 1986–87 season. Ramsay coached the Pacers to their second winning record as an NBA team. However, Ramsay was unable to duplicate that success in later seasons. Ramsay resigned as Pacers coach during the 1988–89 season after a 0-7 start.

When Ramsay left the Pacers, he was second on the all-time wins list for NBA coaches with 864 wins, trailing only Red Auerbach. When he retired, Ramsay had the most combined college and professional wins of any coach.[7] In 1992, Ramsay was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.[5] The Trailblazer retired Number 77 in Ramsay’s honor on Jan. 14, 1993, symbolically recognizing the 1977 Championship.[8] In 1996, he was voted one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history.

Broadcasting and media

After his coaching career ended, Ramsay spent nine years as a television color commentator for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat. The games were broadcast from South Florida's Sunshine Network (now Sun Sports), Fox Sports Florida, and sometimes local Miami station WBFS (then a UPN affiliate). Ramsay worked alongside announcer Eric Reid.

During Ramsay's tenure as Heat commentator, he developed some memorable nicknames and phrases for the Heat players. Whenever point guard Tim Hardaway made a three-point shot, Ramsay shouted, "this away, that away, Hardaway!" When Alonzo Mourning dunked the ball, Ramsay exclaimed "Zo with the stuffa!". Whenever a Heat player made a nice shot, Ramsay screamed "bottom of the net!"

Between 1996 and 2012, Ramsay called 15 NBA Finals for ESPN Radio, serving as the network's top analyst.[9] He joined ESPN from the Heat full-time in 2000.[10]

In addition to his TV and radio work, Ramsay authored several books, including The Coach's Art (ISBN 0-917304-36-5) and Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball (ISBN 0-471-46929-7).


Ramsay's son-in-law Jim O'Brien has been the head coach of the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and The University of Dayton, and grandson Jack O'Brien is the editor-in-chief of humor website Cracked.com. Grandson Geoff Dailey played baseball at Wesleyan University. His two eldest children, Susan and John, have doctoral degrees and taught at the college level. Another son, John, was an assistant dean at Carleton College. Ramsay counted on the late David Halberstam and Gay Talese as his friends.[11] Ramsay was a devout Roman Catholic.[12] An avid amateur tennis player, Ramsay and Van Miller (the Braves' radio announcer and a close friend of Ramsay's) often played as a doubles team.[13]

Ramsay had a pair of concussions in his playing career; one happened while playing a college game in 1948, the second in 1954 during an Eastern League game. In 1999, a routine medical exam revealed an early diagnosis of prostate cancer. The ensuing therapy led to a successful treatment that Ramsay didn't miss a single game that season as commentator. In October 2004, Ramsay was diagnosed with melanoma. He had another bout with the disease in his later years. On May 10, 2013, Ramsay announced that he was again starting cancer treatment, ending his broadcasting career.[14]

Ramsay died of cancer in his sleep the night of April 28, 2014.[15][16] He was 89. Ramsay's longtime employer ESPN announced his death on Twitter.[17]

Head coaching record

Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win-loss %
Post season PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win-loss %
Team Year G W L WL% Finish PG PW PL PWL% Result
Philadelphia 1968–69 825527.6712nd in East514.200 Lost in Division Semifinals
Philadelphia 1969–70 824240.5124th in East514.200 Lost in Division Semifinals
Philadelphia 1970–71 824735.5732nd in Atlantic734.429 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Philadelphia 1971–72 823052.3663rd in Atlantic Missed Playoffs
Buffalo 1972–73 822161.2563rd in Atlantic Missed Playoffs
Buffalo 1973–74 824240.5123rd in Atlantic624.333 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Buffalo 1974–75 824933.5982nd in Atlantic734.429 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Buffalo 1975–76 824636.5612nd in Atlantic945.444 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Portland 1976–77 824933.5982nd in Pacific19145.737 Won NBA Championship
Portland 1977–78 825824.7071st in Pacific624.333 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Portland 1978–79 824537.5494th in Pacific312.333 Lost in First Round
Portland 1979–80 823844.4634th in Pacific312.333 Lost in First Round
Portland 1980–81 824537.5493rd in Pacific312.333 Lost in First Round
Portland 1981–82 824240.5125th in Pacific Missed Playoffs
Portland 1982–83 824636.5614th in Pacific734.429 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Portland 1983–84 824834.5852nd in Pacific523.400 Lost in First Round
Portland 1984–85 824240.5122nd in Pacific945.444 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Portland 1985–86 824042.4822nd in Pacific413.250 Lost in First Round
Indiana 1986–87 824141.5004th in Central413.250 Lost in First Round
Indiana 1987–88 823844.4636th in Central Missed Playoffs
Indiana 1988–89 707.000(resigned) -
Career 1,647864783.525 1024458.431


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