Frank Ramsey

 

 

http://www.celtic-nation.com/interviews/frank_ramsey/frank_ramsey_page1.htm

HOMETOWN HERO

Michael D. McClellan

 

Everybody knows the legend of Larry Bird – how he left home to win championships for the Boston Celtics and how he always raced back to French Lick as soon as that last game had been played.  Everyone knows how Red Auerbach snatched Bird as a junior eligible, making it one of Red’s biggest heists of all time.  And everyone knows how hard Bird worked, not only to improve his game, but in just about everything that he did.

 

What many people don’t know is that another Celtic, from another era, did all of these things, too.  His name is Frank Ramsey, and his jersey hangs from the Fleet Center rafters just like Larry Bird’s.

 

Frank Ramsey grew up in Madisonville, Kentucky.  He played for the legendary Adolph Rupp and won an NCAA Championship as a Kentucky Wildcat.  He was selected by Red Auerbach in the first round of the 1953 draft, even though he was a junior and had one more season of college ball left.  You want a hard worker?  How many hall-of-fame basketball players are bank presidents at the age of 71?

 

Frank Ramsey is quite a man.  He lives in the same small town where he grew up, and he treats his accomplishments – an NCAA crown, seven NBA championships, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – as if they were really no big deal at all.  I know better, of course.  I had the good fortune to interview Frank Ramsey, to learn firsthand that Red Auerbach not only coached great athletes, he also coached great people.

 

This interview took place over several days and in the brief pockets of time when Mr. Ramsey wasn’t opening the bank vault for business, meeting with customers, or handling the day-to-day emergencies that happen when you’re the man in charge.  Each conversation gave me a greater appreciation of Mr. Ramsey’s work ethic, and I came away from the experience reminded of the things that make his generation so special – honesty, integrity, and a can-do spirit.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Like many of your Boston Celtic teammates, you were born during the decade of The Great Depression – the same year, in fact, that the Empire State Building opened in New York (1931).  What was Madisonville like during the 30s, and what memories did you carry with you from this period?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I was born in Corydon, Kentucky, and lived there those first six years.  My parents lived in my grandparent’s house, and there was no air conditioning and no indoor plumbing.  It was a farmhouse, and I worked the farm.
 
When I was six we moved to Madisonville, which at the time was a town of about five thousand.  After the move, I continued to work the farm until I could drive.  I went to school in Madisonville for twelve years and graduated from high school there.  I played basketball, football and baseball.  I was an all-state baseball player and was honorable mention in football.

Madisonville High School was small – there were 350 students in the top six grades, and 72 students in my 1949 graduating class.  As a matter of fact, we had our 50th reunion three years ago.  Also, most of my teammates at the University of Kentucky came from small towns and smalls schools.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You were ten when Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Do you remember where you were that fateful day, and what impact did World War II have on you and your family?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Oh yes, I remember that day very well.  The attack occurred on December 7th, 1941.  It was a Sunday.  There was an extra section in the newspaper devoted just to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I remember going to the grade school on Monday, and we had an assembly in the school’s auditorium.  Everyone – students, teachers, administrators – were packed in there.  We sat and listened to President Roosevelt address the nation.  It was radio address – there wasn’t a television to watch back then – and we all sat there and listened to him make his famous speech.  That’s when we learned that the United States had officially declared war on Japan.

Things got really scarce during this period.  There weren’t enough men to go around because everyone was off to the war.  There was a shortage of everything back then.  There were no new cars being produced, and you couldn’t get new tires anywhere.  And not just car tires, you couldn’t find tires for bicycles either.  Everybody had to make sacrifices – I remember the ladies in the churches making bandages for the Red Cross.  People were asked to buy war bonds to support the war effort.

Things gradually got better.  I remember the first new car to come off the lines after the war.  It was a Chevrolet, and it cost one-thousand dollars.

 

CELTIC-NATION
When did you first become interested in playing basketball?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I started playing basketball in grade school.  Back then there just wasn’t anything else to do from a recreational standpoint.  There was always plenty of work to do, though; in high school I worked on the farm, painted, dug ditches, cleaned the streets for the city, you name it.

When I was in the fourth and fifth grades, I was playing basketball with the seventh and eighth graders.  I made the junior varsity team in high school, and my first season as a starter was my sophomore year.

 

CELTIC-NATION
At what point did you think about playing college basketball?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I didn’t think about it at all.  Back then it never entered my mind.  It was a different time back then, and not everyone thought about college.  For many people, high school was as far as their schooling took them.  At that time I was playing sports, concentrating on my studies, and getting involved in the other extracurricular activities provided by the school and the community.  Just like anyone else.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You mentioned being all-state in baseball, and honorable mention in football.  You were recognized in basketball as well.

 
FRANK RAMSEY
I was all-state in 1948 and 1949.

 CELTIC-NATION
You played for the legendary Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky.  What was the recruiting process like for you?
 
 FRANK RAMSEY
[Laughs].  I recruited myself.  I didn’t have anyone recruiting me to play basketball.  When I was a senior in high school a friend of mine invited me to Lexington.  He was a freshman that year, and on the football team.  I visited the campus and got a taste of UK basketball.  I met Cliff Barker and Ralph Beard, who were All-Americans, and this was just after UK had won the championship with its Fabulous Five in 1948.  The Fabulous Five were Barker, Beard, Kenny Rollins, Wallace Jones and Alex Groza.  UK won the title again in 1949.

Going to UK, I thought I would sit on the bench for three years and then start the last one, but luckily it didn’t work out that way and I didn’t have to wait.  I received a great education at the University of Kentucky, both in basketball and in academics.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Tell me about Adolph Rupp.


 FRANK RAMSEY
I was a senior when I met Adolph Rupp.  Coach Rupp was bigger than life.  He won the NIT once and the NCAA tournament four times.  He coached the 1948 Olympic team to a gold medal.  He had all of those victories (879), all of those SEC titles (27) and NCAA tournament appearances (20).  He was the National Coach-of-the-Year numerous times (4).

You meet someone like that and your mouth just falls open.  Coach Rupp was a dictator, and I think all of the great coaches have that quality.  Red (Auerbach) had it, and so did Vince Lombardi.  They demand so much out of you.

Coach Rupp’s office was no bigger than an average bathroom.  There was room for two desks and that was about it.

He was such a special person.  He took players from all over Kentucky and won with them, mostly small town kids who would do anything for him.  When I played, Bobby Watson and Cliff Hagan were the only kids on the roster from what I would call large cities.  They came from towns of about fifteen thousand at the time.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You won a national championship in 1951, as Kentucky held Kansas State scoreless for eight minutes in the second half (68-58).  What stands out most in your mind about that game?

 FRANK RAMSEY
To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about that game at all.  I remember that we played the game in Minneapolis, and that the weather was very cold at the time.  I just don’t remember much about the game itself.

 

CELTIC-NATION
What was it like returning to Madisonville after winning the national championship?

 FRANK RAMSEY
It was no big deal, really, not a lot of fanfare.  I went back home after school let out and ran the sawmill for my daddy.

 

 

 


CELTIC-NATION
You were a very versatile player for Coach Rupp.  How tall are you, and what position did you play the most?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I was 6’-3” and played guard.  Back then that was considered a big guard.  I didn’t play the point, I played what they now call the two spot.

 CELTIC-NATION
UK was forced to sit out the 1952-53 basketball season because of violations that occurred before your arrival in Lexington.  How difficult was that for you at the time?

 FRANK RAMSEY
It was something that you just handled.  We were just normal students like everybody else.  We continued to take classes as work towards earning our degrees.  I believe Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsioropoulos would eventually earn their masters degrees.  Cliff, Lou and myself were all selected in the draft by Red Auerbach.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Despite a cancelled 1952–53 schedule, the Wildcats had stayed together and practiced regularly during their year off.  How close was that team?

 FRANK RAMSEY
We were very close.  We continued to practice two or three days a week together.  Only six varsity players were on scholarship at that point.  Twelve freshmen were brought in that year.  As I said, we continued going to class and doing those sorts of things.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Your 1953-54 Wildcats resumed basketball in grand fashion, finishing the season undefeated at 25-0.  What do you remember most about that run and the SEC playoff win over LSU?

 FRANK RAMSEY
There was no SEC tournament at that time.  It was a round-robin format, and we ended up playing LSU in a playoff to decide who would go to the NCAA tournament.  The game was played in Nashville.  It was a tough game but we prevailed by six points to stay undefeated.


 

CELTIC-NATION
The NCAA ruled that three UK seniors – yourself, Cliff Hagan, and Lou Tsioropoulos – all had enough credits to graduate (which technically made you graduate students) and were ineligible to compete in postseason play.  What stands out most about both the ruling and Adolph Rupp’s decision to refuse the berth?

 FRANK RAMSEY
There was nothing to it.  Coach Rupp made the decision not to play in the tournament that year, and that was it.  As you mentioned, Cliff, Lou and myself were academically ineligible because we were considered graduate students.  Back then the rules were different.  Today students can go school five years and not jeopardize their eligibility.  It wasn’t like that back then. 

Not many can say that they played collegiate athletics for one storied program and professional athletics for another.  There are even fewer still that can say this and say that they played for legendary coaches in the process.  Frank Ramsey is one of those fortunate few.  While at the University of Kentucky, he played for the legendary Adolph Rupp.  He then played his professional basketball for Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics.

Frank Ramsey quickly made his mark in Boston, earning a reputation for valuable production off the bench. As cerebral as Russell and Bird, Ramsey brought a powerful new dimension to the game of basketball:  He was instant offense, a selfless and versatile player who sacrificed personal ego for the overall good of the team.  The NBA recognizes Frank Ramsey as its first great Sixth Man, as well it should.  We should all recognize him as one if its truly good guys, a hard-working, down-to-earth man who keeps his word and reminds us all of what's right in the world of sport. 


CELTIC-NATION
One of Red Auerbach’s masterstrokes was to draft Larry Bird as a junior-eligible in 1978.  This may surprise some, but Auerbach first applied this strategy in the 1953 NBA Draft.

 FRANK RAMSEY
That’s right.  Many people today know that Red selected Larry Bird as a junior, but many more don’t know that he first applied this strategy in 1953.  That’s the year he selected Cliff, Lou and myself.  It was a surprise move that caught a lot of people off guard, and a lot of other teams weren’t happy about it at all.  That was classic Red.  The rule was changed shortly after the draft to prevent that from happening again.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Both you and Cliff Hagan served time in the military – you after your first season with the Celtics, and Hagan two years immediately following college – before launching Hall-of-Fame careers in the NBA.  How did that year away from basketball help to shape you as a person?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I don’t know that it shaped me in any particular way.  Almost everybody at that time served in the military.  In school I joined the ROTC and earned eight credit hours over a two year span.  The one thing that serving taught me was discipline.  That was the big thing that I carried away from that experience.

Cliff served in the military as well, but he went in right after graduation.  I played that first season in Boston and then went into the service.  I was still in the army when we won our first championship in 1957.  [Laughs.]  We played that seventh game against the St. Louis Hawks on a Sunday and I was discharged from the army on the following Tuesday.

 

CELTIC-NATION
As fellow Wildcats, Cliff Hagan’s name is forever linked to your own.  On the professional level, Hagan’s name will forever be linked to one of the biggest trades in NBA history.  What do you remember most about the trade that sent “Easy” Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks in exchange for the draft rights to Bill Russell?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Ed Macauley was a favorite of Walter Brown, the owner of the Boston Celtics.  Ed could have stopped the trade if he’d wanted to do so – all he had to do was tell Mr. Brown that he wanted to stay in Boston.  But Ed had a sick son, Pat, who lived in St. Louis.  Pat was there so that he could be close to his doctors.  The trade made sense for Ed because he was born and raised in St. Louis, and going back home meant that he could spend more time with Pat.  It was a good trade for everybody, especially when you considered Ed’s family situation.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Red Auerbach is famous for his contract negotiations.  Can you remember your first contract talks with Red?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I remember it well.  I was in Boston with a group of college all-stars.  We were playing the Harlem Globetrotters at Fenway Park.  Red stops me in the Red Sox dugout and begins talking contract, and thirty minutes later we’d come to an agreement.  Because of my military responsibilities, I remember requesting a six month deferment as part of that original contract.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics started the 1956-57 season with 14 consecutive victories.  Which rookie impressed you more that first championship season – Bill Russell or Tommy Heinsohn?

 
FRANK RAMSEY
The were two entirely different players, and they played two different positions.  Tommy played that whole season, but Bill didn’t join the team until after the Olympics.  Before Bill arrived, we had plenty of scorers but no real defense.  Bill Sharman could should the ball, Bob Cousy could shoot it, Tommy Heinsohn, Jack Nichols.  But we didn’t have anyone to rebound the basketball and block shots.  Bill Russell gave us the defense that we’d been lacking.  With him in the lineup we won in 1957, then again in 1959.  That started a streak of eight consecutive championships.

CELTIC-NATION
You were the NBA’s first great Sixth Man, and such a vital part of the Boston Celtics’ success.  How were you able to come into a game completely cold and produce on such a consistent basis?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I don't know - I have to give a lot of the credit to Red Auerbach, because he was the one who set the rotation.  When I joined the team we had two all-star guards in Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. They were tremendous players.  It was Red who decided on the substitution pattern from game-to-game, so my job was to be ready to play.  I watched the flow of the game and tried to keep myself prepared to contribute.  A lot of times, I would go in the game for Tom Heinsohn. 

 

CELTIC-NATION
In Sam and K.C. Jones (no relation), you kept some pretty good company on the bench.  That’s three hall-of-fame players on the second unit.  What can you tell me about Sam and K.C.?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Okay, let's take them one at a time.  I first met Sam while I was still in the army - it was in Columbia, South Carolina, and the occasion was a basketball tournament at the air force base.  Sam is an outstanding individual.  I can't say enough about him.  As a player, he practiced to develop that famous bank shot of his - which he could hit from either side of the floor.  As a teammate he was everything you could ask for.  A true team player.  He was willing to wait his turn to start.  Just a tremendous basketball player.

K.C. was a student of the game, which helped him later when took over as coach of the Celtics.  He has a tremendous amount of integrity.  We lived close to each other during those days, and we would carpool to airport all of the time.  Those were good memories.  We would drive to the airport and solve all of the world's problems along the way.  [Laughs.]  I have a lot of respect for K.C. Jones.

 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years.  I know that a lot of the credit goes to Bill Russell, but there had to be more to it than that.  Do you care to share the Boston Celtics' secret recipe for success?

 FRANK RAMSEY
The players that Red surrounded himself with all had a great deal of class.  That was what made the experience so special for me.  And everyone wanted to win.  It wasn't about individual accomplishments.

I think a lot of that can be traced to how many of us served in the military.  Jack Nichols, Jim Loscutoff, K.C., Sam, myself - all of us served, so we were used to the discipline that comes with a winning program.  We didn't have a problem with Red giving the orders.  He was the general and we followed his orders. 

 

CELTIC-NATION
I’ve heard that Red used to take the Celtics on the road for quite a number of exhibition games.  Were you ever a part of those trips?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Oh yes.  In those days we used to tour Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts - heck, we even went as far up as Holten, Maine.  I remember going on the road and playing fourteen games in fourteen days.  A team always traveled with us on those exhibitions, so we'd play the same team at every stop.  One year it was the Minneapolis Lakers, another the Cincinnati Royals, another the squad from Philadelphia.  That meant we might end up playing the same team twenty-five times or more during the course of the season.

On one particular trip I remember listening to the World Series as it was being played.  We'd get so tired of being around each other, I remember that as well.  There would always be a scuffle or two by the end of the trip.  You could always count on that.

 

CELTIC-NATION
What were Auerbach’s practices like?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Once the season started they were short and intense.  We really liked to scrimmage, that was the thing.  Russell didn't scrimmage as much as the rest of us, because he usually played the entire game.  That's forty-eight minutes of basketball, which places quite a demand on the body.

Our favorite scrimmages were usually the big guys against the little guys.  We would divide the teams up that way for two reasons;  because all of the little guys thought that they could play the pivot, and all of the big guys thought that they could bring the ball up the court.  [Laughs.]  We would also scrimmage five-against-five, eliminating a player from each team along the way, until it was down to one-against-one.  It was always a big competition to see who was named champion. 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Two seasons after Auerbach’s trade for Russell, the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks each had one NBA Championship.  Did you think that the Celtics would go on to win the next eight consecutive championships, and ultimately, 11 in 13 years?

 
FRANK RAMSEY
No. Our main concern was winning from year-to-year.  Things were a lot different back then.  We won our first championship on April 15th, 1957, and now the games run well into June.  Another big difference was that we all had summer jobs.  We had to, because we were paid only a small fraction of what the players make today.  When the season was over we all went our separate ways to make a living.  Bob Cousy had his summer camp, Loscy (Jim Loscutoff) had a camp, Tommy Heinsohn sold insurance.

 

CELTIC-NATION
And you had a successful construction business back home in Madisonville.

 
FRANK RAMSEY
That's correct.  We built a little bit of everything - homes, buildings, even a nursing home.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
November 8th, 1958.  Elgin Baylor scores 64 points and the Minneapolis Lakers defeat the Celtics 136-115.  The payback game came three months later, as the Celtics destroy the Lakers – and the record books – by scoring 173 points.  It was also the game that Bob Cousy recorded an amazing 28 assists.  Is that score correct?

 FRANK RAMSEY
[Laughs.]  Yes it is.  That should tell you something about the pace of the game - it was a wide open affair with a lot of fast breaks.  And we scored all those points without the three point shot.


 

CELTIC-NATION
In no particular order, tell me about Walter Brown and Red Auerbach.

 FRANK RAMSEY
Walter Brown was an honest man who always kept his word.  He was a very upstanding person and a fine man to work for.  There wouldn't be a need for lawyers if everyone in the world were like Walter Brown.

Red is very much the same type of person.  He came across as a boisterous, but deep down he was a pussycat.  Every year we would play one of our games in College Park, Maryland.  Red, of course, lived in Washington, D.C., and after the game he would take the whole team over to his house for cold cuts.  He and his wife Dottie would serve us Coke and cold cuts.

The gruff person that everyone knows, that's the coaching side of Red Auerbach.  That's the one always arguing the calls, always doing anything to win.  But that was just one side of him.

I remember one time when we were in Chicago to play a game, and (NFL quarterback) Sid Luckman came into the locker room.  He was Red's friend, and they had a mutual business interest.  Sid asked Red if he could borrow twenty bucks.  Red pulled out $100 instead.  I asked him why he gave Sid the hundred dollar bill  when he could have given him a twenty instead.  I'll never forget his reply.  Red said:  "Sid will forget the twenty as soon as I give it to him, but he'll always remember the hundred."  [Laughs].  That was classic Red Auerbach.

 

CELTIC-NATION
I’ve read where you Red’s first choice to takeover the coaching reins when he retired.  Can you tell me about that?

 FRANK RAMSEY
It was discussed but it never went beyond that.  When I retired, Red tried to get me to play one more season.  He said that after the season we would sit down and talk about my future with the team.  It was a very generous offer, but I decided to move back to Madisonville.  My father wasn't in good health, and I had three children to raise.  I decided that it was better for me to stay home.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Have you remained close to any of the players from those great championship teams?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I talk to them all of the time.  I made great friends during my career with the Boston Celtics.  We were a very close-knit team - our wives were all friends, which helped, because we didn't have nannies to help take care of the children.  If a player's child was sick and needed to go to the doctor, the other wives would be right there to help.  That closeness was a really nice benefit, because we were together so much - on trains, buses, airplanes, you name it.  I watch teams today and I don't think there is the same closeness.

We played a lot of cards in those days, and that was a lot of fun.  There was no petty jealousy.  Everyone just wanted to win, and we all respected Red as the leader.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Tell about the day you were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

 
FRANK RAMSEY
I was inducted in 1981.  It was a very special day for me.  I had a lot of family in attendance, and a lot of friends.  There were a lot of people from Boston there to show their appreciation, which was very nice.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
A question for historical perspective:  Where were you when the terror attacks occurred on September 11th?

 FRANK RAMSEY
I was here at the bank, working.

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
Final Question:  You’ve achieved great success in your life, and you’ve done so with a great deal of dignity, pride and class.  You are universally respected and admired by many people (both inside and outside of the NBA).  If you could offer one piece of advice on life to others, what would that be?

 FRANK RAMSEY
Have respect for everyone.  Be fair in everything - business, athletics, and life.  Always work hard, and play by the rules.

 

 

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