MIAMI — Jack Ramsay served his country in World War II, coached Portland to the NBA title, was enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame and became one of the game’s most respected and revered broadcasters.
His life was, by any measure, complete.
“Our father led the greatest life that one could lead,” the Ramsay family said in a statement released Monday, hours after the man that just about everyone in basketball called “Dr. Jack” died in Naples, Fla., at the age of 89.
No cause of death was announced, but Ramsay had fought several forms of cancer for many years and more recently was diagnosed with a marrow syndrome. Ramsay ended his broadcasting career with ESPN last year because of health problems and word came last week that he had been placed into hospice care.
“From his coaching tenure to his broadcast work, Dr. Jack left an indelible mark on every facet of our game and on every person he came in contact with, including me,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.
Added Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who was close to Ramsay for many years: “This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world. The game has lost a giant.”
Ramsay coached in the NBA for parts of 21 seasons before embarking on a second career as an NBA analyst, eventually working for ESPN. He was diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 and later battled growths and tumors that spread to his legs, lungs and brain, as well as prostate cancer.
Through it all, his affinity for fitness never wavered.
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. He often spoke of his love of swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Even in his final year as a broadcaster, it wasn’t uncommon for friends to marvel at how well he was moving about.
“Jack was a great man,” Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird said, “and I don’t use that term lightly.”
Ramsay also spent several years late in his life caring for his wife, Jean, who was diagnosed in 2001 with Alzheimer’s disease. She died in 2010.
“He was that rarest of men with a unique style that was inspirational and motivational about basketball and life itself,” said Paul Allen, who owns the Trail Blazers.
Ramsay enjoyed enormous popularity within the league. To commemorate his 89th birthday this year, Portland coach Terry Stotts wore a loud checkered jacket and open-collared shirt for a Blazers game — a nod to Ramsay’s style of dress 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 for his senior season. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1949, which explains the “Dr. Jack” moniker.