Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Genius Moment with Dr. Jack Ramsay

As I stood with executive producer Scott Zachry conducting a rare interview before the Utah game, I had to stop and catch my breath for a moment as I realized how fortunate I was to be in the presence of a Trail Blazers coaching legend and Hall of Famer, Jack Ramsay. The man who once defined basketball as “a graceful sweep and flow of patterned movement, counterpointed by daring and imaginative flights of solitary brilliance” is just as eloquent, dynamic and commanding today as he was when he led the 1977 World Champion Trail Blazers to the only title in team history.

After Ramsay fondly described Bobby Gross as a player who “never asked for a big shot but always delivered” and Terry Porter as an “unselfish, team dedicated guy” who was “meant to be a coach”, the conversation turned to his thoughts on the current Trail Blazers. Clearly still an avid fan, Ramsay said, “It’s a young team, a highly skilled team and they’re still developing…I like the direction, I like the leadership that Nate and his staff has given this team. I like everything about it really. They are clutch, tenacious, and they are a team. The skies the limit.”

Without missing a beat, Ramsay grew much more specific describing Portland’s All-Star. “Brandon Roy is a special player. I noticed in his game this year, he’s taking the ball to the basket and finishing better this season. He said that’s what he worked on over the summer and it makes him so difficult to play. So now he finishes with his left hand as well as his right.” Three points Ramsay for being able to point out a detail that has won a number of games for the Blazers this season. He is just as sharp and insightful today as he was when he coached the team 32 years ago, and he certainly commands the same presence. So much so that Shavlik Randolph, who was working out nearby stopped to listen to his wisdom and later called the moment “moving.” I would definitely agree.

Before he left to assume his radio position for ESPN, I had to ask the original Confucius (with all due respect to my partner Mike Rice) one more question. What’s the Blazers’ X-factor?

He pondered and slowly smiled as he said, “Their team awareness. They have bought into coach Nate McMillan’s team game 100%. The fact that there are a lot of capable players on this team is only an asset if those players accept their roles. So when I watch the Trail Blazers play, the starters come out of the game without looking at the clock or without looking at the coach. They know they are going to come out. The reserves know they are going to get in the game and when, and for generally for how long and they all accept that.”

As I thanked him, one word came to mind. Genius. I have no doubt why this man led his team to a championship.