Frank Ramsey, Small Town Kentucky Boy Turned NBA Legend

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This article is the third in a series about basketball legend, Frank Ramsey, who played for the UK Wildcats and the Boston Celtics.


A common belief in our society is that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. The former Chicago Bulls standout won six NBA titles during his 15 seasons in the NBA.

Former Boston Celtic, and current Dixon Bank President, Frank Ramsey only played nine seasons in the NBA, but his success during that time not only somewhat devalues what Jordan accomplished, but adds a whole new meaning to the word “efficiency.”

Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics (photo, Famous People)

Under the legendary Red Auerbach, Ramsey and his Celtic teammates brought home the title a staggering seven times in ten years–the most decorated period in Celtics history.

But for Ramsey it was simply a transition from one dynasty to another. Ramsey spent his college years playing for UK basketball legend, Adolph Rupp, winning one national championship in 1951.

Drafted by the Celtics in the first round in 1953 Ramsey didn’t participate in his rookie year, opting to play at Kentucky one more year as a graduate student. That Wildcat team, regarded as one of the best in school history, finished the season with a perfect 25-0 record.

Then Ramsey played only one season for the Celtics before being drafted into the Army in 1955. “In fact, when we won our first championship in 1957 I was still in the Army,” Ramsey recalls. “I had taken a 60-day leave along with 10 three-day passes. I didn’t get discharged until two days after we won that first championship.”

It was not uncommon at that time for NBA players to serve in the military simutaneously. The organizational structure was quite different back then from the way it is in the NBA today, Ramsey says. “When I first started there were only eight teams, so there were only 80 players in the NBA,” said Ramsey.

Courtesy: NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images

“Most of the guys had been in the service. It was different. You accepted discipline. We would have a timeout at the end of the game and Auerbach would ask us, ‘What do you think?’ We’d tell him and then he would make the decision.

Him making the decision was like a general telling a private what to do. We went out and played like we were told to. But it was completely different from college. Coach Rupp was the absolute boss. Everybody in the NBA had an opinion. At one point in Boston we had eight future Hall of Famers on the same team.”

So Ramsey had a good deal of competition on those teams. Ramsey didn’t get to start many games for Boston, but he provided a valuable spark off the bench.

“You have to remember that as a rookie I was playing behind two All-Star guards, Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman,” said Ramsey. “I was happy. I got to play plenty of minutes. Tommy Heinsen was a ‘two cigarette at halftime man,’ which meant that after seven minutes I would get to play the rest of the time.”

Smoking was not an uncommon practice at the time. In fact, several players took Heinsen’s lead and some even chugged down a can of beer between halves.

Ramsey also commented on how he and his Celtics teammates interacted with their opponents. “We were all friends,” he said. “I think some of the guys today don’t even like heir own teammates.”

Jack Twyman of the Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) Photo courtesy NBA.com

“You have to realize that we were playing the Eastern Division teams 12 times a year. If you played them in the playoffs, that means possibly 19 games a year against just one team. If you got into a fight in the first or second game that would carry into games for the rest of the season.

“We were just all friends. I know we played in Cincinnati one night and Jack Twyman invited us (the Celtics) all over to his house to have sandwiches after the game.”

It was also a different time as far as the reciprocation that Ramsey and his teammates received for all their valiant efforts on the hardwood. “We didn’t make a whole lot of money,” said Ramsey. “The first year we won the championship the whole team’s salary was under $200,000. I think some of the players today make that much for one game.”

“I was certainly happy with that, though. We were winning, we all got along, our wives all got along. and all of it made home life a whole lot better.”

The home life was more of the reality at the time, too. The NBA was more like a part-time job for players. “It’s a completely different atmosphere (today),” said Ramsey. “The minute the season was over we all take summer jobs. We didn’t make enough playing basketball to support a family year-round. When the season was over we didn’t touch a basketball until training started the next year.”

“The house I lived at in Boston was owned by a couple who went to Florida during the winter. We’d live there during the season, but I’d call them the minute the season was over. We’d then come back to Madisonville, KY.” Ramsey worked various jobs in Madisonville during the summer months, ranging from working in a grocery store to working for a construction company.

The team had to report for training in Boston in September and the season began a few weeks later. “We’d go up there in the fall and it would be right at the end of baseball season,” said Ramsey. “We didn’t have our own training facility so we trained with the Boston Bruins (the hockey team).”

Courtesy: Pinterest

“We had two-a-day practices for two weeks. Auerbach tried to kill you to get you into shape. And then we travelled by car for two weeks to play teams around New England. We then started the season. By then we were in very good shape.”

Ramsey retired from the NBA in 1964. His best statistical season was 1957-1958 when he averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Ramsey averaged 13.4 points per game throughout his career. His #23 is retired by Boston—a place where he’s considered a Celtics immortal.

Upon retirement Ramsey had an opportunity that would have made him a legend in the Boston and New England area. He declined.

He always said he’d come home to western Kentucky … and he did.

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Reach CAMERON BROWN at cameronbrown647@yahoo.com

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About Cameron Brown

Cameron Brown is sports columnist with The Journal-Enterprise, Providence, Kentucky and winner of the Kentucky Press Association “Best Sports Column of the Year” award. Cameron has a passion for basketball–like so many others in his home state of Kentucky. He played basketball for his high school in rural western Kentucky and enjoys other sports, including college football and Major League Baseball. His dream is to have a job in sports.



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