John Travilla “Jack” Ramsay (February 21, 1925 – April 28, 2014) was an American basketball coach, commonly known as “Dr. Jack” (as he held an earned doctorate, see below). He was best known for coaching the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA Title, and for his broadcasting work with the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, and for ESPN TV and ESPN Radio. Ramsay was among the most respected coaches in NBA history and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was the winner of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2009–10 NBA season.
After coaching in the high school and minor-league ranks during the early postwar years, Ramsay became head coach at St Joseph’s in 1955. Ramsay got the job after accidentally meeting the college’s moderator of athletics at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. Ramsay was hired as coach for the 1955-56 basketball season for $3,500.
In Ramsay’s first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. This first season also marked the school’s first-ever postseason playoff berth, in which St Joseph placed third in the NIT after losing to Dayton University. Ramsay would remain at St. Joseph’s through 1966, leading the Hawks to six more Big 5 crowns, five straight seasons of first-place finishes in the Middle Atlantic Conference, ten postseason appearances, and a Final Four stint in 1961.
At age 41, after leading his team to a 24-5 record in 1965-66, Ramsay was diagnosed with an edema on the retina of his right eye. Ramsay left his coaching job with the Hawks on the doctors’ recommendation that he reduce stress. Ramsay finished with a record of 234-72 in 11 years. He would remain the winningest coach in St. Joseph’s history until current coach Phil Martelli passed him in 2005.
After leaving St Joseph’s, Ramsay was hired as general manager by the Philadelphia 76ers. Team owner Irv Kosloff gave Ramsay a three-year $25,000 deal. In Ramsay’s first season, the 76ers won the NBA title after finishing 68-13, then the best record in NBA history. The team averaged 125 points with Wilt Chamberlain contributing an average of 24 points, 24 rebounds and eight assists per game. However, Ramsay was forced trade Chamberlain and Chet Walker, receiving little value in return.
In 1968, Ramsay became the 76ers head coach. In Ramsay’s first game coaching an NBA team, the 76ers zone press won 114-96 against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Spectrum, even though Lakers players Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain combined for 71 points. The 76ers finished that first season with Coach Ramsay 55-27. The 76ers led the NBA in scoring (119 points per game) as a result of Ramsay’s style of aggressive pressing defense.
In his four seasons as 76ers coach, Ramsay led the team to three playoff appearances. While the 76ers continued to be contenders, the team was much weaker than in previous seasons.The team’s collapse came in 1971–72, when the 76ers posted to 30-52 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in team history.
After the 1971-72 season, Ramsay became the head coach of the Buffalo Braves. After compiling a losing 21-61 record in that first season in Buffalo, Ramsay had the team double their win total the next season by finishing first among the league’s 17 teams in offense (111.6) even though they were last in defense (111.8). That second season in Buffalo had Ramsay leading the Braves to the playoffs, where they pushed the eventual champion Celtics to six games in the conference semifinals. His Buffalo tenure was almost a mirror image of his time with the Sixers—four seasons, three playoff berths; however, he did not leave Buffalo in the sort of wreckage that had occurred in Philadelphia.
In 1976, Ramsay became the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. When Ramsay arrived, the Blazers had not made the playoffs or compiled a winning season record in their six-year history. However, a young Blazers team, led by Bill Walton, was starting to gel. Ramsay also benefited from the 1976 ABA dispersal draft, in which the Blazers obtained power forward Maurice Lucas. In his first season in Portland (1977), Ramsay led the Blazers to their first NBA title. In his second season, the Blazers were 50–10 after 60 games and favored to repeat as NBA champions. However, Walton broke his foot, ending the Blazers’ winning prospects. Ramsay continued to coach the Blazers until 1986 with general success. However, he never equaled the achievements of his first seasons. During Ramsay’s last nine seasons in Portland, the Blazers only won two playoff series. He also coached the Western Conference side in the 1978 All-Star Game.
Ramsay took over as coach of the Indiana Pacers for the 1986–87 season. Ramsay coached the Pacers to their second winning record as an NBA team. However, Ramsay was unable to duplicate that success in later seasons. Ramsay resigned as Pacers coach during the 1988–89 season after a 0-7 start.
When Ramsay left the Pacers, he was second on the all-time wins list for NBA coaches with 864 wins, trailing only Red Auerbach. When he retired, Ramsay had the most combined college and professional wins of any coach. In 1992, Ramsay was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Trailblazer retired Number 77 in Ramsay’s honor on Jan. 14, 1993, symbolically recognizing the 1977 Championship. In 1996, he was voted one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history.
Philadelphia 76ers (1967) (as GM)
Portland Trail Blazers (1977) (as Head coach)
Enshrined into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992)
Top 10 Coaches in NBA History (1996)