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Frank Ramsey: The Original Sixth Man


Photo: Kentucky Digital Library

Born in Corydon, raised in Madisonville, multi-sport athlete and national champion at the University of Kentucky, seven-time NBA champion, head coach of the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels, and settled down back home again in Madisonville.

Frank Ramsey was a hometown Kentucky legend through and through.

At the University of Kentucky, Ramsey played basketball for coach Adolph Rupp and baseball during the offseason. Under Rupp, the 6-foot-3 guard totaled 1344 points and 1038 rebounds, helping the Cats take home the national title in 1951. Every season at Kentucky, he finished with All-American and All-SEC honors.

As a graduate player in 1953-54, Ramsey averaged 19.6 points per game as the star player of the AP No. 1 undefeated 25-0 team. If the NCAA had allowed them to play in the postseason, the Cats would have nine banners hanging at Rupp, not eight. Alongside fellow Kentucky legend Cliff Hagan, the two formed one of the SEC’s greatest one-two scoring combos of all time.

He only got three years in a Kentucky uniform, but he solidified himself as one of the best Wildcats to ever do it.

“I may have earned a bachelor’s degree in business from UK, but I earned a doctorate athletically,” Ramsey said in the book Wildcat Memories. “I played basketball for one of the greatest coaches ever.”

Little did he know, he would soon play for one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, as well.

Pictured from left to right: Clint Eastwood, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey

As an NBA player, Ramsey furthered his basketball greatness as the original “sixth man” with the Boston Celtics. He was drafted in 1953, and after returning to Kentucky for a graduate season, started his eight-year career in 1954-55.

His best year came in 1957-58, where he averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest. For his career, he only averaged 13.4 points per game, but his playmaking abilities, grit, and hustle off the bench was instrumental in Boston’s mid-1900s dynasty.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981, it was obvious Ramsey was talented enough to be a starter. But he preferred his role off the bench to allow the star Celtics to get their time in the spotlight. He was a selfless individual both on and off the floor.

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

He wasn’t rewarded for it financially. No one really was. But the taste of victory year after year more than made up for it.

“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.”

And that home life was very rarely in Boston. He only stayed there during the season, heading back to Madisonville the second his time with the Celtics was through each 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.”

“It’s a completely different atmosphere (today),” Ramsey continued. “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.”

He worked at a grocery store and for a construction company during the summer months in Madisonville.

Eight years as an NBA player, seven championships. The one year he didn’t win a ring, he still reached the NBA Finals, where he lost to Cliff Hagan’s St. Louis Hawks. He was, and still is, a Boston Celtics legend. Just like his No. 30 jersey at Kentucky, Ramsey’s No. 23 jersey was retired and hangs in the rafters of TD Garden to this day.

Getty Images Pictured from left to right: John Havlicek, Red Auerbach, Frank Ramsey

Auerbach offered him a job to replace him as head coach in Boston once the legendary coach retired in 1966. Instead, he went back home to coach the Kentucky Colonels for one season in the ABA, and retired from basketball for good soon after. His father was growing old and he wanted to spend more time with his three children at home in Madisonville.

No matter how famous he was as a basketball player, Ramsey never left his Kentucky roots behind.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

5 responses to “Frank Ramsey: The Original Sixth Man”

  1. Kat4Life

    In his time he was a mega stud…..UK legend worthy to be in the discussion for All Time starting five in Cat history.

  2. michaelb

    This is sad , Being from Madisonville I knew this was gonna happen soon . I was in the middle of creating a piece of artistic memorabilia to give to him. I guess I’ll just give it to one of his kids now. This guy was a true pro baller – his fuel was simply the love of the game . Rip Frank

  3. michaelb

    Good write up by the way

  4. Cletis75

    LEGEND! RIP

  5. classof68

    I remember those ’50 and ’60 Celtic teams when I was a kid. They were dominant. It definitely was a different world back then. Players obviously weren’t over paid and stuck on themselves. None of them would have called their president a bum. Another good article Jack.