Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay, an Upper Darby, Pa. native who would go on to coach St. Joseph’s basketball team and the Philadelphia 76ers died overnight. He was 89.
Ramsay's beloved St. Joe's shared the news on its Twitter feed.
"Anyone who loves SJU basketball has Jack Ramsay to thank. A great man and coach. He will be missed. #RIPDrJack"
Ramsay, who also attended St. Joe’s, died in his sleep Monday in Naples, Fla. following a long battle with cancer, according to the Portland Trail Blazers -- a team he coached to an NBA Championship.
On Hawk Hill, the news of Ramsay's death left a huge hole.
"Saint Joseph's University joins the basketball and broadcasting community in mourning one of its own, Dr. Jack Ramsay '49," said a statement from Ramsay's beloved St. Joe's. "Dr. Jack was so much more than a coach. For generations, he was a teacher, scholar, ambassador and icon. Today, there are heavy hearts at the Ramsay Basketball Center for a magnificent person and his family. There was simply no greater Hawk than Dr. Jack."
The coaching legend began his career at his Alma Mater. He would coach the Hawks from 1955 to 1966 leading St. Joe’s to multiple Big 5 crowns and a Final Four appearance in 1961.
After coaching the Hawks, Ramsay became the General Manager of the 76ers, leading the team to a championship in his first season.
“Dr. Jack Ramsay was a legendary figure in Philadelphia and a man whose passion and contributions to this city and the game of basketball will long be remembered,” said Sixers Chief Executive Officer Scott O’Neil. “He left an indelible mark on the basketball community -- from the Big 5 to our organization and throughout his storied career within the NBA -- and was a friend and mentor to those who knew him, both on- and off-the-court.”
Ramsay coached in the NBA for parts of 21 seasons including leading the Sixers from 1968 to 1972. He would go on to coach in Buffalo, Portland and Indiana, leading the Blazers to the 1977 NBA Championship.
Ramsay served in the Navy prior to earning his bachelor’s degree from St. Joe’s, would later earn a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania earning him the moniker "Dr. Jack."
He also was a longtime respected basketball broadcaster for a variety of networks including ESPN.
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."
John T. Ramsay was born Feb. 21, 1925, in Philadelphia and enrolled at Saint Joseph's in 1942, eventually becoming captain of the basketball team there for his senior season.
Ramsay's biggest impact on Hawk Hill would be when he started coaching his alma mater in 1955. He was wildly successful there, going 234-72 and taking the Hawks to the NCAA tournament seven times, the Final Four and to a No. 1 preseason ranking by Sports Illustrated in 1965.
To Ramsay, the most significant part of the Saint Joseph's years was this: "I met my wife there," he said.
He was a founding father of sorts for the growth of Big 5 basketball, which is what the annual series between Philadelphia-area schools Saint Joseph's, La Salle, Penn, Villanova and Temple was dubbed.
"I felt a lot of personal pride and interest in the outcome of those games," Ramsay told the AP in 2004. "There wasn't as much interest in conference play. There wasn't the impact of a national championship or conference championships like there is today. The Big 5 was clearly the biggest thing any of those schools were involved in at that point."
Ramsay was 864-783 in his NBA career, being named one of the league's Top 10 all-time coaches in 1996.
When he left the Pacers, Ramsay carefully did not use the word "retire," and began working as a television analyst on 76ers games. Eventually, he worked on Heat television broadcasts for eight seasons before moving full-time to ESPN for radio and TV commentating before the 2000-01 season.
Ramsay's funeral will be held Thursday.