Calvin “Cal” Ramsey, NYU Hall of Famer, former New York Knicks player and longtime broadcaster, passed away on Monday at the age of 81.
Ramsey died of cardiac arrest at The Riverside Premier Rehabilitation and Healing Center in Manhattan, according to the Knicks.
The Selma, Alabama native attended high school in Harlem and burst onto the New York City basketball scene when he shined in Rucker Park. Ramsey graduated from NYU in 1959 after playing for the Violets for three years during his undergraduate career. He holds a number of NYU basketball records including most rebounds in a game (34 vs. Boston College), highest rebounding average in a single season (19.6), most career rebounds (1,101) and highest career rebounding average (17.5). In addition, Ramsey’s 20.2 career scoring average is the fourth-highest in program history and his 1,275 career points rank 11th on NYU’s all-time scoring list.
The St. Louis Hawks drafted Ramsey in the 1959 NBA draft, and he played in four games before being traded to the Knicks, with which he played seven games. The following season he featured in two games for the Syracuse Nationals, the precursor to the Philadelphia 76ers. A serious knee injury later forced his retirement at just 25, but Ramsey returned to the Knicks in 1972 to serve as a color commentator alongside the likes of Bob Wolff, Dick Stockton and Marv Albert.
Ramsey returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in 1983 when NYU basketball became an NCAA Division III program. As his health declined in recent years, he was unable to maintain the same level of commitment to the team, but still volunteered as often as he could. He helped lead the Violets to an overall 615-341 (.643) record, including 25 postseason appearances.
“He was a presence,” NYU Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information Jeffrey Bernstein said. “Everybody knew him, not just at NYU. Wherever we would go, people would come up and say hello to him. He was a real treasure of NYU, not just athletics, but NYU in general.”
Bernstein first met Ramsey in the early ’80s when he was working at Hunter College and Ramsey was a sports broadcaster. The two became friends over the years.
“He was very proud that after all these years, he still holds all our basketball team’s rebounding records,” Bernstein said. “We would joke about that. I would say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for the guy, you know that guy, the great rebounder. Where can I find that guy?’ And we would just laugh about it. And his favorite line was ‘It is I who soars so high.’ He would always say that. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss that a lot.”
During CAS junior Ted Georgiadis’ freshman season, Ramsey would frequently sit on the bench with the players and impart his wisdom on the team.
“One game, when I was an incoming freshman, we were getting beat on the glass pretty good and he pulled me aside and started telling me how to get in better positions so I could get more rebounds,” Georgiadis recounted. “And at the time, I didn’t even know who I was speaking to. To me, I still take that advice to heart today. And that’s something really special.”
SPS senior and NYU men’s basketball player Jule Brown transferred to NYU in 2017. Despite never meeting Ramsey, Brown knows all about his legacy and his work both on and off the basketball court.
“You hear all the stories about how great of a player he was, arguably the greatest basketball player in NYU history, but at the same time I’ve heard countless stories about his work in the community and how much of a leader he was in the city of New York,” Brown said. “I think that’s equally if not more important that he was such a prominent figure in New York City, away from the basketball court.”
Despite all of his success in his professional life, Ramsey always took the time to give back to his communities and help those in need.
“I think Cal Ramsey is an NYU icon,” NYU men’s basketball Head Coach Dagan Nelson said. “He cared about New York City basketball and he cared about NYU and all that it stood for. But he was always about helping other people.”
Ramsey was inducted into the NYU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978 and was awarded the NYU President’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2004. As a successful African-American in sports, Ramsey’s story is inspiring to many from players to administrators alike.
“I’m very grateful to have a guy like Cal Ramsey to pave the way for me to even attend NYU but to also play on the basketball team,” Brown said. “It was always very important for me to understand the history of NYU basketball and the guys that came before me. So I think in that respect, he just paved the way not just for African-Americans, but all players in general.”
Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]