James Jones column: Remembering Calvin Murphy

Published 1:37 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

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The city of Selma has a small connection to the NBA.

The late Calvin Ramsey, whose brief professional career lasted seven games during the late 1950’s, was born in Selma on July 13, 1937 but his family later moved to Harlem, New York.

Ramsey passed away at a rehabilitation center at the age of 81 of cardiac arrest in Manhattan on March 25, 2019.

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Ramsey played in only four games for the St. Louis Hawks, seven for the New York Knicks (1959-60 season), two games with the Syracuse Nationals (1960-61). Ramsey later went to the semipro Eastern League, where a knee injury ended his career.

He became a legend on and off the basketball court. Ramsey developed his hoop skills on the playground courts of the Rucker League,  building a rivalry against future NBA star Connie Hawkins. He was known as a rebounder with a good shooting touch.

Three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (then as Lew Alcindor) and Julius “Dr. J” Irving, are among the basketball legends to play in the historic league.

What I am most impressed with is Ramsey remains the only person ever to win Rucker MVP honors at the high school, college and pro level, something Chamberlain, Irving and Abdul-Jabaar never did.

He’s also in the NYU Athletics and New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

Ramsey starred at Commerce High School of Manhattan in the 1950’s, earning a scholarship to New York University. For many years, he was 11th on the school’s career scoring list with 1,275 points.

The St. Louis Hawks were impressed enough with Ramsey to pick him in the second round of the 1959 NBA Draft.  Pro teams saw the 6-foot-4 Ramsey as too short at forward and not a strong enough shooter at guard, but he disagreed.

“I’ve been told at the time there was a quota system in the league,” in which teams “may have wanted only two or three blacks,” Ramsey told Charles Salzberg for the 1987 oral history “From Set Shot to Slam Dunk.”

Ramsey earned a degree at NYU and became a teacher in New York, but maintained his basketball background.

Ramsey was a color analyst for Knicks broadcasts from 1972 to 1982, later working as a community representative in 1991. He was also an assistant basketball coach at NYU from 1983 until 2018. He served NYU as assistant director of community relations for 20 years and received the university’s President’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2004. Although Ramsey built his basketball legacy in New York, Selma should be proud of his accomplishments.