Ramsay, 88, expects to retire after season
For more than 60 years, Jack Ramsay has had jobs in basketball. For nearly a half century, he’s been a general manager, coach and broadcaster in the NBA.
But the time finally has come that Ramsay, 88, is likely to step away.
Since the mid-1990s, the Hall of Famer has been an NBA analyst for ESPN Radio. But he said Wednesday he has told ESPN officials he likely will not return next season.
“I think this will be my last year,’’ Ramsay, a Naples, Fla., resident who once was a Miami Heat television analyst, said in a phone interview with FOX Sports Florida.
Ramsay, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and with melanoma in 2004, said his health is generally good and his decision to step away is not yet final. But he said he likely will do so because of no longer being able to work with play-by-play man Jim Durham, who died in November at 65.
“It’s not quite the same,’’ said Ramsay, who has worked with different partners this season on ESPN Radio. “I did it all these years with one partner, Jim Durham, and he passed away after the first game this year. We had a great rapport and I really enjoyed working with him, and working with him is really why I extended my tour of duty.’’
When Durham died, it was extremely tough on Ramsay. The final game Durham had worked was alongside Ramsay for the Oct. 30, 2012, regular-season opener between Boston and Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“It was very hard,’’ Ramsay said. “He was not only a great broadcaster but a great friend, and it was very difficult.’’
Announcers Ramsay have been paired these season include Kevin Calabro, Marc Kestecher and Dave Flemming. While he respects all of them, Ramsay long has called Durham the best basketball radio play-by-play man ever.
“These are very good guys that I work with, but they’re not Jim Durham,’’ said Ramsay, who coached the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title and is affectionately known as “Dr. Jack’’ due to his doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. “Nobody is …. I’ve always believed Jim was the best, and nobody has convinced me otherwise.’’
Ramsay, who is committed to continue his radio work at least through the NBA Finals in June, does a few games each week, having most recently done Tuesday’s New York at Miami meeting. He doesn’t know what he would do to occupy his time if not working regularly in the NBA and admits it might be weird not having a basketball job as his occupation.
“I’ve really enjoyed the contact with the players and coaches,’’ Ramsay said of being a broadcaster. “It’s been a fun job …. Hopefully, I’ll find something (to do following retirement).’’
Ramsay fought a successful battle with prostrate cancer before he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2004. He had told the New York Times in 2010 he was “not expected to live.’’
Ramsay, who always has stayed in great shape and competed in triathlons until he was 70, has recovered. But he still must keep a close eye on his health.
“I’m still taking treatments and still getting check-ups,’’ Ramsay said. “Melanoma is so erratic that you never really know. I’ve had it all over (his body).’’
Ramsay has followed the NBA closely since the league began in 1946, and the Warriors played in his native Philadelphia. After having coached in high school and in the minor leagues, Ramsay took over as coach at St. Joseph’s University in 1955. He entered the NBA in 1966 as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, and they won the championship in his first season.
Ramsay became an NBA coach in 1968 with the 76ers. He ended up coaching for 21 seasons, compiling a 864-783 record while also with the Buffalo Braves, Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.
After retiring as a coach early in the 1988-89 season at age 63, Ramsay went into broadcasting. He was the Heat television analyst from 1992-2000, a period that included Micky Arison taking control of the team as owner from father Ted Arison in 1995.
When Ramsay celebrated his 88th birthday in February, Arison tweeted, “My 1st basketball advice when I took control of the @MiamiHEAT came from Dr Jack. Happy birthday Jack Ramsey 88 yrs young today.’’
Told about Arison’s tweet, Ramsay said he met with Arison, who is CEO of Carnival Corporation, shortly after he had taken control of the Heat.
“He said he’d like to sit down and have a talk about the NBA and basketball,’’ Ramsay recalled. “So I went to his office and we talked for a couple of hours about my perspective of the NBA. He had high ambitions right from the start. I started the conversation by saying, ‘Well, first of all, the NBA is big business.’ And he put his hands up and said, ‘Wait a minute.’ And he points to the Carnival ship models around the office and said, ‘That’s big business. Compared to that, the NBA is way down there.’ ’’
Ramsay was able to convince Arison that perhaps the NBA was bigger business than the owner had thought. He also recalled Arison saying to him then he wanted to lure Pat Riley to South Florida.
“I remember him saying in that first meeting he wanted to bring in Pat Riley as coach and Riley was coaching the Knicks at the time,’’ Ramsay said. “I said, ‘Wow. I don’t know how you’re going to do that.’ ’’
Well, Arison did it. And Riley led the Heat to the NBA title in 2006 as coach and assembled the team as president that won last year’s title.
When Ramsay is at AmericanAirlines Arena, he said Arison regularly stops by the broadcasting station to say hello. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who has known Ramsay since he was a kid, also makes it a point to greet “Dr. Jack.’’
“I met him in Portland when he was 10,’’ Ramsay said of Spoelstra, whose father Jon Spoelstra than was a Trail Blazers executive. “He used to come to practices on the weekends. I used to get him to try to drive by me (on the court).’’
Ramsay said Spoelstra earlier this season showed him a picture he had taken with Ramsay about 30 years ago, and he got a kick out of it. Ramsay had become an NBA colleague of Spoelstra’s in 1995 after Spoelstra was hired by the Heat as video coordinator.
For now, Ramsay is trying to decide with his NBA Coach of the Year vote whether to go with Spoelstra or Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, who played on Ramsay’s title team in Portland. Ramsay gets a ballot due to being a member of the media, and said “both have done amazing jobs this year.’’
It figures to the last time, though, Ramsay has a vote. As the season wears down, there figure to be a lot of finalities for Ramsay, who has been grateful at being able to get into broadcasting and extend his NBA career well into his 80s.
“It’s been a great ride,’’ he said.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson