Jack Ramsay, Portland Perfect Match

Jack Ramsay

PORTLAND, Ore. -- There were trails where he could ride his bike and plenty of lakes to swim in. You could run anywhere, in an area that was jogging-crazy. For a serious weekend triathlete, this was the perfect place.

But that wasn't the only reason Jack Ramsay treasured Portland. This, too, was a place that loved NBA basketball, and loved it a lot more after Ramsay delivered a championship in 1977.

And it was the place where Ramsay, a coaching artist, found the perfect canvas for his masterpiece.

The Renaissance man

He was a great coach, a leader of men who deftly used his doctorate in education from Penn to lead pro basketball players, guys who never even knew he had played the game at St. Joe's. In fact, in those Portland days, from 1976 to 1986, he was seldom known as "Dr. Jack" -- just Coach Ramsay or Jack.

As in jack-of-all-trades, I always thought. He was a Renaissance man, a coach unlike any I've ever met before or since in any sport. Being a young Portland reporter, learning from Ramsay was an incredible experience.

During the game, he often coached from a spot in front of the bench, one knee resting on a towel. His sport coats and plaid pants were louder than the 12,666 fans who packed old Memorial Coliseum for every game. His stern visage belied the very happy, secure man inside. As much as he loved basketball, he had other interests. He never let the game consume him.

There were no charter flights in those days, and so media and the team traveled together on commercial airlines. It was a different time, and relationships were forged in those days unlike anything today. On road trips, he'd often be found at dinner, deep in discussions with the team's radio broadcasters, his assistant coaches, the trainer and even a sportswriter. The conversations might start with basketball but then often moved to politics, history or simply the events of the day. He was a listener, too, which is a skill not always common among his brethren.

"We'd go to dinner and you wouldn't see him drawing up plays on a napkin," said his trusted athletic trainer at the time, Ron Culp, who later served the Miami Heat. "Wins and losses made a difference, but they didn't dominate his life like a lot of other coaches. There was more to life for Jack than just the bouncing ball."

When we'd have an off day in New York, Ramsay would arrange for Culp to grab tickets to a Broadway show. In other towns, there were museums to see or music to hear. The memories of those off nights on the road with Jack burn brightly for all those who shared them. Dave Twardzik, a starting guard on the championship team who went on to serve as the team's radio analyst for a spell, remembers them fondly.

"As good of a coach as he was, he was a better person," said Twardzik, who now works at Old Dominion, his alma mater. "I loved being around him off the court. He had a tremendous sense of humor. The demeanor you saw on the sidelines was nothing like what you saw off the court."

Culp said, "[He had] a great sense of humor -- I learned a billion things from him, but the best thing I learned was an ability to laugh at myself."

Even with a great sense of humor and resiliency, Ramsay took losses hard. Sometimes very hard. He was legendary for his long walks after tough games.

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