Dr. Jack Ramsay: Coach, mentor, friend

Hubie Brown shared his memories of Dr. Jack Ramsay during a special tribute Wednesday in Miami. Courtesy Josh Ritchie

MIAMI -- Hubie Brown still cherishes Dr. Jack Ramsay’s memory to the point of choking up when he talks about him.

There aren’t many highlights in Brown’s decorated career as an NBA coach, ambassador and broadcaster that rival the April day in 2005 when he received a call from the Basketball Hall of Fame informing him of his induction.

But the occasion meant just as much to Brown because of the man with whom it was shared.

The official from the Hall of Fame had a routine request for all new inductees.

“By the way, we’re going to send to you a list of the Hall of Fame people that are still alive, and that you would prefer to have one walk you up [for presentation],” Brown said Wednesday as he recalled what he was told by the representative from the Hall. “I said, ‘You don’t have to send that list. If Jack Ramsay is available, he’s the only one I want to walk [me] up.”

Brown, 80, fought back tears as he relayed that story, among dozens of others, as part of an ESPN special memorial tribute to Ramsay on Wednesday during the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena. Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach who led Portland to the 1977 NBA title and was regarded as one of the brightest basketball minds in the history of the game, died in April at age 89 after a battle with cancer.

As a coach, broadcaster and confidant for more than 60 years, Ramsay has mentored Hall of Famers and superstars from Wilt Chamberlain, Bob McAdoo and Bill Walton to Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. With many of the players, coaches and broadcasters Ramsay worked with in attendance at the NBA Finals, Wednesday provided a perfect opportunity to pay tribute to the basketball icon.

Brown, who spent the past 25 years coaching, working clinics or broadcasting games with Ramsay, anchored Wednesday’s panel discussion that was hosted by ABC/ESPN studio host Sage Steele and also featured coaches-turned-broadcasters Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy.

As part of the tribute Ramsay’s son, ESPN executive Chris Ramsay, was presented a bronze radio microphone for his father's years of service as a radio broadcaster after he retired from coaching. Engraved in the microphone was the message: ESPN remembers Dr. Jack Ramsay -- Friend, Mentor and Analyst.

“My dad loved the NBA,” Chris Ramsay said during Wednesday’s tribute. “He loved coaching the games. He loved broadcasting the games. He loved analyzing the games with the coaches and the players. He loved his role as a worldwide ambassador for basketball. If he were here today, he would say, ‘Why are we making such a fuss about Jack Ramsay? The NBA Finals are going on. Let’s talk about the teams and the games.’ Well, we make a fuss because we miss him and we wish he was here.”

Ramsay’s expansive career included a stint with the Navy in World War II and a semi-pro basketball career as a player before he entered the coaching ranks. He coached St. Joseph College to 10 postseason appearances in 11 years, which included a trip to the Final Four in 1961.

Six years later, he was the general manager of the Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers team that won the 1966-67 NBA championship. Ramsay would compile 864 NBA victories during coaching stints with the 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers before he retired in 1988. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

It was around that time when his relationship with Brown grew much deeper as the two toured the world conducting coaching clinics on behalf of the NBA to help globalize the game.

“In the coaching profession, when you coach against a person, you have friendships, but they’re surface,” Brown said of his bond with Ramsay that carried them both to Springfield. “When you travel with a man to 25 countries around the world, and then your friendship bonds, he treats you like a son, it becomes more than that. And for me, walking behind him up to that podium is one of the greatest things of my life because of what he stood for.”