Cal Ramsey, a presence on the New York basketball scene for more than a half-century, who starred at New York University in the 1950s, played briefly for the Knicks and remained with them as a longtime broadcaster and community relations representative, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 81.
The Knicks announced his death, at a rehabilitation center. He had been in poor health in recent years.
Ramsey, who had lived in Harlem since he was young, began honing his skills on the playground courts of the Rucker League, which has attracted some of the game’s greatest players over the years.
He first appeared at Madison Square Garden while playing for Commerce High School of Manhattan. He played at the Garden for three seasons as a forward at N.Y.U., where he was a teammate of the future Boston Celtic forward Tom Sanders. He is 11th on the leading scorers list for N.Y.U. with 1,275 points.
Ramsey was selected in the second round of the 1959 N.B.A. draft by the St. Louis Hawks. At 6 feet 4 inches, he was an outstanding rebounder with a good shooting touch, but he came to be considered too small as a forward and not good enough as a dribbler to excel at guard.
He played in only four games with the Hawks and seven with the Knicks in the 1959-60 season, then in two games with the Syracuse Nationals, the forerunners of the Philadelphia 76ers, in 1960-61.
Ramsey may have faced another obstacle in the N.B.A. that had little to do with his skills. “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 oral history “From Set Shot to Slam Dunk” (1987).
After Ramsey’s stint with Syracuse, he went to the semipro Eastern League but incurred a severe knee injury in his third season with the circuit. It ended his playing career.
Ramsey was born on July 13, 1937, in Selma, Ala. He was a teacher in New York after his playing days, having received a bachelor’s degree from N.Y.U.
He was a color analyst for Knicks broadcasts from 1972 to 1982, then rejoined the team as a community representative in 1991. He was also an assistant basketball coach at N.Y.U., which had become a Division III team, from 1983 until the past season. He served N.Y.U. as assistant director of community relations for 20 years and received the N.Y.U. President’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2004.
Information on his survivors was not immediately available.
James L. Dolan, the Knicks’ owner, said in a statement that Ramsey “will be remembered for the thousands of young lives he influenced as a community leader.”
A case in point involved Al Barden, who, after starring for Boys High School in Brooklyn (now Boys and Girls), was recruited to N.Y.U. by Ramsey while he was playing there.
“Al was a tough kid with a habit of getting into some trouble,” Ramsey told Harvey Araton of The New York Times in 2009. “So I stayed on him, made sure he was going to class, doing the things he needed to stay eligible.”
When Barden’s basketball career was over, Ramsey, mindful of the problems athletes have in transitioning to a new phase of life, hired Barden as his replacement to direct a high school program for at-risk students. They remained friends through the years.
One day, Barden, living in California, phoned Ramsey to tell him of the birth of his son, whom he had named Ramses, ostensibly for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt as a symbol of everlasting strength.
But there was more to it than that.
“Replace the ‘s’ with a ‘y’ and what does it spell?” Barden asked Ramsey. “I really named him for you.”
In June 2009, the Giants selected Ramses Barden, a receiver from Cal Poly, in the third round of the N.F.L. draft, and he spent four seasons with them.
When Ramses was drafted, Al Barden, speaking to The Times, said of Cal Ramsey, “He could get you to do anything just because of who he was: someone you just had to respect.”