Friends, family celebrate life of late Jack Ramsay
NAPLES, Fla. — Jack Ramsay's trophy case resembled his life — both were full.
With friends and family simultaneously mourning and celebrating his life, the Basketball Hall of Famer and NBA championship-winning coach was remembered at his funeral Mass on Thursday as someone endlessly devoted to his family, fitness and faith. He died on Monday at the age of 89, after fighting cancer in many forms for the final 15 years of his life.
Chris Ramsay delivered his father's eulogy, calling him "a basketball genius."
"His teams were an extension of himself," Chris Ramsay said. "They were smart and they outworked the opponent. He taught a team game, where sharing and giving was required. His game, when executed properly by the right personnel, was unbeatable. ... His trophy case collapsed under the weight of all the awards."
Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Phil Martelli and former referee Bob Delaney were among those attending from the basketball world, along with former coach Jim O'Brien, Ramsay's son-in-law.
Many broadcasting colleagues of the man best known as "Dr. Jack" were also at the funeral, inside St. John the Evangelist Church in southwest Florida.
"Basketball royalty," McAdoo said.
But the overriding theme of the funeral was not basketball. It was faith.
A devout Catholic, Ramsay would routinely find early morning Mass to attend in cities that his broadcast work took him to before hopping onto a flight to either head back home or call a game in another city. At his family's annual reunion last year, Ramsay rose from his seat at the head of a table and urged his children and grandchildren to take their faith more seriously.
"My dad was special in so many ways," Chris Ramsay said. "He was a multi-faceted man with many interesting sides to his personality and life. He had many names. He was John T. Ramsay, Coach Ramsay, Jack Ramsay, Dr. Jack, Dad and Pop. Each personality added to and complemented the other, each forming and shaping the other into one unbelievable man."
Jack Ramsay's life, by any measure, was complete. His name adorned the marquee at Madison Square Garden, he was considered a founding father of "Big 5" college basketball in Philadelphia, he led a team headlined by Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins to the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title, he was known for his fashion sense as a coach, he drove powerful sports cars and even picked up surfing and golf along the way.
But those flashy things never overshadowed his simpler side. Ramsay's wife died in 2010 after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease, and long after she stopped even understanding who he was most of the time, Ramsay kept holding her hand, feeding her and trying to ease her fears and confusions in any way he could.
"We're celebrating the life of a child of God and a man of faith," said Fr. John J. Ludden, the church's pastor.
Jack Ramsay was 864-783 in his NBA coaching career, was honored in 1996 as one of the league's top 10 all-time coaches, plus posted a 234-72 record with seven NCAA tournament appearances at Saint Joseph's, his alma mater.
Chris Ramsay, who worked alongside his father at ESPN in recent years, saw firsthand how much respect his father commanded by those in the game.
"You were eager when he called and you paid attention," Chris Ramsay said. "You waited for directions, for inspiration, a pearl of wisdom, a piece of advice. He's not here to call your name out loud any longer, but I guarantee you will do something soon that was inspired by Jack Ramsay. He will move you. He will call your name again, and you will listen."