Al stands tall in basketball
By GREG WHITE
COFFS Harbour's most decorated resident has another honour.
Al Ramsay OAM, MBE, was named the first 'Legend of Australian Basketball' at a gala dinner in Melbourne last week adding another chapter to the 83-year-old's colourful life.
"I was expecting a player to receive the award but the next thing you know they called out my name," Ramsay laughed.
"It was the most amazing thing to be still well thought of after so long in the sport."
Quite literally, Ramsay 'fell' into basketball.
"In the 1950's it was a minor sport and really struggling," he remembered.
"They talked me into taking over as secretary of Basketball New South Wales and I said I'd spend six months getting it straightened out before handing it back.
"Fifty years later I'm still involved."
His work in education and recreation at the time, helped open the gate.
"Back then when schools closed for the day they shut the doors and threw the keys on the table," he said.
"All those gymnasiums were unused after school hours so we thought by putting basketball in we could keep the facilities in use and grow the sport.
"That's how the boom took off through school students and young people."
After watching the game for half a century, Ramsay has surprises in store as to who've been the greatest players he's seen in that time span.
"Everybody thinks I'd nominate the Americans but Oscar Smidt of Brazil was an exceptional player," he said.
"Some of the Yugoslavs were also very good.
"In Australia, I suppose you have to nominate Andrew Gaze for his excellence over a long period but like racehorses, it's hard to say one is better than another from a different era.
"All champions are unique in their time."
One of Ramsay's most satisfying moments came when basketball was added to the Commonwealth Games schedule.
"I pushed a long time for that," he said.
He isn't concerned with the current situation of the game.
"There are always peaks and troughs," he said with pointed reference to the Boomers loss to the Tall Blacks last week in the ? you guessed it ? Ramsay Shield international.
But he has a feeling the sport lets itself down with its media relationships.
"Because the main competitions are held at night, press deadlines are a problem.
"By the time reports hit the papers the news is two days old.
"A really high profile, high-powered press guy who knows media and the game inside out would be a major bonus and with money in the bank, it would be possible to pay salaries for them to work 'on staff' for the various media outlets."
While Ramsay doesn't have the same hands-on role he once had, he isn't quite ready to put himself out to pasture.
"I still send letters to the hierarchy and they still see fit to reply ? sometimes," he chuckles with a hint of mischief.
"But I enjoy my golf and reckon an 18 handicap isn't too bad for an old fella."
Ramsay will be forced to miss the NBL Blitz in Coffs Harbour during September with an understandable excuse.
"I'll be away in Japan," he mentioned.
"Watching basketball, of course."