Dr. Jack Ramsay, who coached the Portland Trail Blazers to an NBA title before embarking on a long career as a basketball analyst for ESPN, has died at age 89, the network said Monday. The Hall of Fame coach had been battling cancer.
Ramsay “coached 20 years in the NBA, during which he emphasized fitness, selflessness, ball movement and skill — qualities that carried his Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title,” according to ESPN.
The sports network also notes that Ramsay’s approach to sports was informed by his training as a Navy underwater demolitions expert during World War II. In 2011, Ramsay wrote about those experiences.
Ramsay said that while he was bothered by not being in combat during the war, he appreciated the chance to learn about frustration, and about training.
“I learned quite a bit during that time,” he wrote. “It was very demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. You had to be in top physical condition. In the training program, you would start the day on a small boat by being taken out to a mile marker and dumped off to swim to the beach. Every day.”
As the AP reports, Ramsay never lost his appetite for physical training — he competed in at least 20 triathlons and regularly swam in the Gulf of Mexico in recent years.
The news agency notes that Ramsay’s passion for basketball and knowledge of the game helped him remain a popular figure in Portland and in the sports world for decades.
“To commemorate Ramsay’s 89th birthday earlier this year,” the AP reports, “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.”
The Trail Blazers announced today that Ramsay died at his home in Naples, Florida.