Dr. Jack Ramsay, the passionate former Miami Heat television analyst and Hall of Fame coach, died Monday following a lengthy battle with cancer.
A member of the Heat's television team before the franchise's championship era, Ramsay worked the team's games alongside play-by-play broadcaster Eric Reid, known for his gusto in calling slam dunks and detailing games in a matter that both showed his championship pedigree while also relating to the casual follower.
Ramsay, 89, was affectionately known as "Doctor Jack," having received a doctorate degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963.
ESPN reported family members said he passed peacefully in his sleep in Naples, where he would commute from during his tenure calling Heat games.
Reid, with the team to call Monday night's NBA playoff game against the Charlotte Bobcats, said Ramsay was a special person who should be remembered for his passion for both people and the game.
"To me, I'm 56 years old, I've met a lot of people in my life," Reid said Monday morning, shortly after learning of Ramsay's passing, "but none more unique and extraordinary than Jack Ramsay. A lot of people will say this, I mean it, 'Hall of Fame coach, and even greater as a man."
Reid stressed those are the memories he holds fondest.
"Among the many things that Jack set the bar for and set a great example for, is how to live a full and vibrant life," Reid said. "He's known best as a Hall of Fame coach and coaching the Trail Blazers to their only championship. But as I look at Jack, I think first of the family man, a great husband to Jean for all those years, a great father, and probably an even greater grandfather. He was so proud of his family and his grandchildren.
"But I think what made Jack so unique, and we were fortunate to intersect with Jack Ramsay after the rigors and stresses of a life in coaching, and he was so relaxed during his time with us, was he became such a great ambassador for the game as a broadcaster. And broadcasting gave him a second life in the NBA, because today's players didn't know Jack as a coach. They knew him as an ESPN guy.
"He was so knowledgeable in such a colorful and most importantly, such a warm and personal way. And I think that's what set Jack apart, the way he was able to communicate with everybody, whether you were a head coach, owner of the team, a player, or the guy driving us around in his cab. Jack treated everybody the same, with dignity, with humility and with great warmth."
Ramsay joined the Heat as television analyst in 1992-93, succeeding former Heat assistant coach Dave Wohl in that role. He worked the team's games through 1999-2000, succeeded in the role by former Heat player Ed Pinckney.
"We had the unique privilege of sitting next to him for years, not only at games, but on planes, trains and automobiles. We spent so much time together. But eight seasons from 1992 to 2000 encompassed over 500 Heat telecasts. He bridged a very special era of Heat basketball. When he started it was the final couple of years of Kevin Loughery's regime as head coach, and he bridged that time to the Heat's first championship-contending teams, when Pat Riley came to Miami. I think he served a very unique role during a very special time."
Both Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison issued statements in the wake of Ramsay's passing.
"This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world," Riley said. "The game has lost a giant today. Dr. Jack Ramsay meant a great deal to me as a mentor when I was coaching and while I've been with the Heat running the team.
"Our sympathies go out to his family and to all the people who really cared about Jack and what he's meant to them and what he's meant to this game. His legacy will live on through all the coaches and all the players he's had relationships with over the years."
Arison noted a unique personal bond.
"When I first bought the team, we had no basketball organization in place and Dr. Jack was the first person who I turned to for advice," he said of assuming control of the team in 1995. "So for a few days, he was the entire basketball organization for the Miami Heat.
"Over the years I often turned to him for advice and he will be sorely missed by us all. My deepest sympathies to his family and all that loved him."
Current Heat television analyst Tony Fiorentino said Monday that Ramsay was inspirational to be around.
"Well, obviously Dr. Jack was beloved by everyone," he said. "It reminds me of the feeling I had when [former Detroit Pistons coach] Chuck Daly died. To me, those two guys, there isn't anyone that you could find anywhere that would say anything bad about either guy. And Jack was just a great coach, great person, great statesman for the man.
"And I know all of the NBA is in mourning because just an outstanding individual died."
Fiorentino, who previously served as a Heat assistant coach, said Ramsay was a remarkable resource to have traveling with the team.
"I used to talk basketball with him all the time, ask him questions about things I didn't understand when he first came here," Fiorentino said. "And he was great. He would sit with anybody and talk basketball and teach them basketball. And that's who he was, he was a teacher.
"We know he's a world-champion coach, but he was a world-champion person."
Heat radio broadcaster Mike Inglis was calling Indiana Pacers games when Ramsay was coach there, and later worked with Ramsay on the Heat's broadcast team when Ramsay was serving as television analyst.
"My first year in the NBA, Dr. Jack was the coach of the Indiana Pacers," Inglis said, "and I was a neophyte from Canada doing basketball. He taught me everything I knew about basketball, everything.
"So I knew him from the days when he was real hardnosed to me, being a neophyte. He went after me a bunch of times with some of the stuff. But just a great guy, we loved him, we loved Dr. Jack. A super guy."
A particularly memorable moment was Ramsay accompanying the team to the White House a year ago for the team's championship commemoration, with Ramsay calling the team to be added to that guest list because of his desire to meet President Obama.
"He really relished getting over there," Inglis said. "It was just always fun, no matter where it was to be around with him. Because he always taught you something. He was a great guy."
Following his tenure calling Heat games, Ramsay went on broadcast games for ESPN Radio, often returning to AmericanAirlines Arena to interview Heat players such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Ramsay is best known for leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, wearing his distinctive plaid sports coats on the sidelines and guiding center Bill Walton to what remains that franchise's lone title.
He worked 20 seasons as an NBA coach, also winning a championship while serving as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1966-67. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
A physical fitness enthusiast who would go for lengthy runs or swims on game days both when serving as coach and broadcaster, Ramsay served as an underwater-demolition specialist in the Navy during World War II.
Ramsay began his coaching career at his alma mater, St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, in 1955.
His funeral is scheduled for Thursday.
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