Catching up with Frank Ramsey

February 2001

For an easygoing country boy from Kentucky, Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Frank Ramsey stirred up quite a ruckus in 1963. The New York Post called him the Flimflammer, NBA president Walter Kennedy sent him a letter of censure, and a Madison Square Garden crowd serenaded him with cries of "Fake!" Ramsey's transgression? He broke the cardinal rule of magicians: Never reveal your secrets. In an SI 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 , 69, who still lives on the farm on which he grew up in Madisonville, Ky.

As the man credited with inventing the role of sixth man on coach Red Auerbach's dominant Boston teams, Ramsey , a 6'3" swingman, provided adhesive defense and before-you-knew-it double-figure offense, averaging 13.4 points while helping the Celtics win seven NBA titles in his nine seasons. Still, it was Ramsey's craftiness around the basket that inspired SI's Frank Deford to travel to Madisonville to interview him in the summer of 1963 (and in the process become the only staffer to grace the cover of the magazine--that's the 6'4" Deford getting schooled in the cover illustration). Ramsey's feel for the game, and the game within the game, led the Celtics to offer him an assistant's job when he retired as a player in '64, with the understanding that he'd eventually succeed Auerbach. Ramsey said no thank you. He was heading home.

Since then Ramsey has been happy as a sow in mud, spending much of his time running the farm, which includes 750 acres of soybeans, corn, wheat and "a little tobakka" and 450 acres of woods, water and pastureland. He's also president of the only bank in Dixon, a dusty little town of 350 down the road from Madisonville where life is so laid back that, as Ramsey told a reporter asking to set up an interview time, "You just go ahead and call anytime. We don't have appointments down here."

These days Ramsey's weekends are for horseback riding and swimming with his six grandchildren, his three grown kids (who all live nearby) and his wife of 47 years, Jean. Although one grandson and four granddaughters (all younger than 10 years old) play basketball, none have emulated Grandpa's hardwood theatrics. "No, not yet," Ramsey says. "All they're trying to do is learn the rules--that and keep from double-dribbling."

No doubt a ref will be ready with a whistle if they do.

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