MIAMI — Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach who led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship before he became one of the NBA’s most respected broadcasters, has died following a long battle with cancer. He was 89.
Ramsay’s death was announced by ESPN, for whom he worked as a broadcaster for many years.
“Dr. Jack Ramsay has passed,” ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca wrote on Twitter early Monday. “A rare man. Loved and respected by all. Fascinating life well lived. An inspiration to so many.”
Ramsay coached in the NBA for parts of 21 seasons before embarking on a second career as an NBA analyst. He was diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 and later battled growths and tumors that spread to his legs, lungs and brain, then later fought prostate cancer and most recently a marrow syndrome.
His affinity for fitness never wavered, though. Ramsay, who competed in at least 20 triathlons during his life, worked out regularly into his 80s, even as he battled the various forms of cancer that he was stricken with. He often spoke of his love of swimming in the Gulf of Mexico near his home in Naples, Fla., or jogging in a pool or from wall to wall in his hotel room when he was traveling on NBA assignments.
“He’s probably forgotten more about the game than I know,” Miami Heat coach and president Pat Riley once said of Ramsay, whom he counted as a close friend.
Ramsay also spent several years late in life caring for his wife, Jean, who was diagnosed in 2001 with Alzheimer’s disease. She died in January 2010.
Ramsay had enormous popularity within the league, even until the final stages of his life. To commemorate Ramsay’s 89th birthday earlier 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.
“Jack’s life is a beacon which guides us all,” Bill Walton, who was on Ramsay’s 1977 title team in Portland, told USA Today in 2007. “He is our moral compass, our spiritual inspiration. He represents the conquest of substance over hype. He is a true saint of circumstance.”
Photo via Twitter/@USATODAYsports