Born: July 13, 1931
Died: July 8, 2018
Boston Celtics (1954-’64)
Frank Ramsey never received a single league-wide honor.
No All-NBA Teams, no All-Star Teams, no All-Defensive Teams, no All-Rookie Teams. No MVP, no DPOY, no ROY, no Sixth Man of the Year. Of course half of those individual honors didn’t even exist when Ramsey played, but despite all that Ramsey received the highest team honor seven times.
As a member of the Boston Celtics his entire nine-year career, Ramsey captured seven NBA titles. But again, he was seemingly never on top even on his own team.
He never led the Celtics in points, or assists, or rebounds, or steals, or blocks, or field goal percentage, or free throw percentage, or three-point percentage. But again, half of those statistics weren’t recorded when Ramsey played.
Yet despite all that Ramsey was instrumental in the Celtics’ success. All he did for Boston (and for the NBA) was pioneer the role of Sixth Man.
Ramsey’s rookie season was in 1954-55 and was rather decent scoring 11 points in 27 minutes of action a night. But for the 1955-56 season, Ramsey received a bit more serious action as he was drafted by the U.S. Army. He didn’t return to the NBA until midway through the 1956-57 season. The Celtics team Ramsey returned to was markedly different.
Gone was perennial All-Star center Ed Macauley. In his place were rookies Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. Russell certainly gets much credit for turning Boston into a title contender. The astute observer also notes Heinsohn’s importance. But Ramsey quietly returned and proved a key cog in Boston’s rising fortunes.
In particular, this trio of newcomers proved invaluable in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1957. Heinsohn racked up 37 points and 23 rebounds. Russell put in 19 points and 32 rebounds. And Frank Ramsey? He didn’t put up those kinds of prodigious numbers, but he customarily scored 10 points in the game’s two overtimes. Since Boston won the game 125 – 123, every little bit of that was needed.
Over the years, this would be Ramsey’s M.O. When times were critical, when the Celtics needed a burst of offense, Ramsey would be thrown in by Red Auerbach to score a bushel of points. During the course of his career, Ramsey would average 13.4 points in 24.6 minutes per game. Extrapolating that out to starter’s minutes, Ramsey would have averaged 19.7 points per 36 minutes.
But unlike many great offensive Sixth Men, Ramsey was also useful on defense. He was a rough and tough Kentuckian who was also not afraid to use “deceptive” measures to gain an advantage and would likely be howled at today as a flopper extraordinaire:
In a [Sports Illustrated] cover story entitled Smart Moves by a Master of Deception, Ramsey described the subtle elbows, planned flops and “heartwarming drama” he’d employed to fool refs and gain an edge on opponents. “For a couple months after that, the officials let people beat the hell out of me,” says Ramsey…
Frank was also legendary for his money-wise motivation. During playoff series, Ramsey would protest loudly in the locker room when the Celtics were playing poorly. Yes, he was a fierce basketball competitor, but the man also wanted his money. Any potential game loss meant a potential loss in money since NBA champions received large playoff bonuses. Unsurprisingly, Ramsey would go on to be a successful businessman back in his home state of Kentucky after retiring from the NBA in 1964.
Had there been a Sixth Man of the Year Award in the 1950s and 1960s, Ramsey would have garnered quite a few of those awards. However, it took a Frank Ramsey in the 1950s and 1960s to help conceive the role that is now honored yearly. That’s quite the pro hoops legacy.
7x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-’64)