Jack Ramsay, father and friend
No matter what we say about Jack Ramsay today, it will seem inadequate. It won't be enough.
He led such a great life. He did so many great things. He was a great man, a giver.
In his public life, he was famous, a Hall of Famer, a world champion. He had colorful friends named Cotton and Hubie and Halberstam and Talese. He traveled the world teaching, coaching and broadcasting. He brought Wilt Chamberlain home for dinner.
He was a basketball genius, a true innovator. He taught a team game. A pure form of basketball. Sharing and giving. With the right personnel, it was unbeatable. He pushed the very best to be even better: Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Bill Walton and Reggie Miller all learned from him how to elevate their games. Later, you'd see him talking with Tim Duncan, Kobe, KG and D-Wade. He was telling them how to be better players and teammates. They all listened, and they all got better.
My dad had drive, incredible determination and discipline. He was raised by his mom and three older sisters. He turned himself into a local basketball star and earned a scholarship to St. Joe's.
He entered the Navy as soon as he was old enough and became a frogman during World War II. He trained for the invasion of Japan, but the war ended before he would see any action. When he was 21, the Navy had made him captain of a supply ship that patrolled the Pacific Ocean around the Marshall Islands. Twenty-one and a captain in the U.S. Navy.
He wrote a thesis to earn his Ph.D. and coached a team in the Final Four with five kids under the age of 12 in the house.
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He rode his bike halfway across America in a week. He taught himself how to surf and became pretty good at it. He was a world-class triathlete at age 70. One summer he worked on his golf game, then went out and won the men's championship at the club.
His private life was normal and not normal. He did things a dad and husband would do. He played ball with us in the driveway. He cut the grass. He took us all out for ice cream on summer nights. He and my mom would play cards with the neighbors. He took us to church on Sundays.
He and I grew very close. After college, I followed him to Portland and Indiana. We spent a lot of time together at the Jersey Shore and in Florida. He was the best friend. We worked together for ESPN at the All-Star Game and every Father's Day at the NBA Finals. He used to say I was his boss, but in truth, I was learning from him. Learning how to be a man in this world. Learning everything.
As he got older, the not-normal stuff began to happen. He started to get sick. Brain tumors, lung tumors, marrow syndrome, skin cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, heart ailments, partial blindness, thrombosis, near-deadly spider bites, gout and shingles. He had hernia surgery. He had cysts removed from his eyelids. He had the bottom of his foot cut off, his lymph nodes stripped out. You probably didn't know about those battles. He fought them in private.
He fought his personal health battles all while taking care of my mom. For 10 years, he cared for her as she got lost in the Alzheimer's maze. He was really sweet with her. She didn't know who he was most of the time, but he held her hand when she was scared and fed her and tried to ease her through the confusion for days and months and years. It was hard, but he did it. And he did it for a long, long time. That, too, is what he did in private.
Last summer when my dad was already very sick, a FedEx box arrived at his home with a DVD inside. On the video were dozens of kids doing basketball drills. Many of them were barefoot. The court was broken clay. The baskets were rusty and falling down. But these kids were working very hard, doing drills and more drills for 20 minutes. Kids and coaches working and sweating in the sun on a hot, hot day in Zimbabwe.
The camera panned away from the action to a sign on a fence that said, "The Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Development Clinic." As his life was ending, a hopeful project with his name on it was just beginning. Part of his legacy is there, on a basketball court in a clearing on the other side of the world.
He did a lot of great things. Some were broadcast into millions of homes. Some no one knew about. He had integrity and ambition and a big imagination. His imagination might have been his greatest gift. It allowed him to envision the great life he led and to create the world in which he lived ... in which we lived.
If he were here today, he would say, "Use your imagination. Imagine the life you want to live, and live it."
Chris Ramsay is Jack Ramsay's son and an ESPN.com senior director.
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