Sunday, May 18, 2014

JD and Dr. Jack: Gone, But Not Forgotten

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

There are a few times in the year I enjoy being a sports fan more than others and the Month of May is definitely one of them.

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I am kind of a throwback because I listen to a lot of Sports on the Radio.  The reason is that I can actually be doing something while I listen. Like driving. Because it's hard to watch something on TV while driving. Or operating a chain saw while watching TV.

On this past Sunday afternoon there was a perfect storm of Sports Radio activity.

While I was driving/hiking around Southern California, I could, without the assistance of Satellite Radio, the internet or an app listen simultaneously to three Major League Baseball games (Padres vs. Rockies, Dodgers vs. D-Backs, Angels vs. Rays), one Minor League Baseball Game (Rancho Cucamonga vs. Lancaster), one College Baseball game (UC Riverside vs. Long Beach State), the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs (Kings vs. Blackhawks) and the first game of the NBA Eastern Conference Championship (Pacers vs. Heat).

With no disrespect to the current National NBA broadcasting team at ESPN Radio, it was during the final game mentioned that I realized how much I missed the call from the team of Jim Durham and Dr. Jack Ramsay.

We unfortunately lost both of these gentlemen in almost a span of a year.

Durham died of a heart attack in November of 2012 shortly after calling the first NBA game of the season, while Ramsay lost his longtime battle to prostate cancer at the end of last month.  It was bad enough that we didn't have Durham on the call for the last two seasons but it really hit home when Dr. Jack suddenly was not there.

Durham was 65 when he passed away and Ramsay was 89.

Durham and Ramsay definitely had an on-air chemistry and in my opinion were the best team ever to call professional basketball games on the radio.

I grew up in Southern California where I heard the greatest NBA Announcer of all time, Chick Hearn. But he was better by himself than teamed with any of his color commentators that worked with him.  The broadcasting teams of Chick and Lynn Shakelford or Chick and Keith Erickson or Chick and Stu Lantz never matched the chemistry of Durham and Ramsay.

John Travilla "Jack" Ramsay was first recognized as an athlete and then a basketball coach, known to everybody as "Dr. Jack" (because he held an earned doctorate).

He was best remembered 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.

Growing up in Milford, CT,  Ramsay was encouraged to participate in sports in grade school and High School by his parents. Ramsay graduated from Upper Darby High School in Philadelphia in 1942.  That athleticism and love of staying physically fit remained his entire life where he was known to participate in marathons well into his 80's.

Ramsay went on to Saint Joseph's College where he played both basketball and baseball. Ramsay's college career was interrupted by three years of service in the US Navy during World War II.

In 1962, Ramsay obtained his master's degree and in 1963 his doctorate degree in education, both from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, Ramsay played six seasons of professional basketball in the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball League.

To supplement his playing income, he coached basketball at High Schools in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

After coaching in the high school and minor-league ranks, Ramsay became head coach at  his alma mater, St Joseph's in 1955. In Ramsay's first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. His first season as coach also marked the school's first-ever postseason playoff berth, in which St Joseph placed third in the NIT tourney.

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. Ramsay finished with a winning percentage of close to 70% in his college coaching career.

In 1976, after successful runs in Philadelphia and Buffalo as first an NBA GM and then a coach (he took his teams to the Playoffs six of eight seasons) Ramsay became the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. When Ramsay arrived, the Blazers had never made the playoffs or even compiled a winning season record in their six-year history. In his first season in Portland (1977), Ramsay led the Blazers to an NBA title.

By the time Ramsay left his last NBA stop (the Indiana Pacers), he was second on the all-time wins list for NBA coaches with 864 wins. In 1996, he was voted one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history. In 1992, Ramsay was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

After his coaching career ended, Ramsay spent nine years as a television color commentator for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat. In addition to his TV and radio work, Ramsay authored several books, including The Coach's Art and Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball.

Jim Durham, who Dr. Jack would often refer to as "JD", started his sports broadcast career, by working on WJBC radio in Bloomington, IL.

In addition to his work on ESPN and ESPN Radio, Durham spent more than 32 years calling NBA games on TV and radio; his previous assignments were with the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, TNT and TBS.

With the Bulls, he was the play-by-play announcer when the Bulls won the 1991 NBA championship.

Durham also called men's NCAA basketball tournament games for CBS.

In addition, Durham did play-by-play for Major League Baseball, first in the 1980s for the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox and then for ESPN Radio from 1998 until his death in 2012.

But during this time of year,  during the NBA Playoffs, is when I will miss the voices of the ESPN Radio team of Jim Durham and Jack Ramsay the most.

There will never be another sports radio team like them.

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