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YouTube Gold: Frank Ramsey

The original sixth man

Frank Ramsey Portrait
Frank Ramsey #23 of the Boston Celtics dribbles for a mock action portrait circa 1950’s.
Photo by NBA Photo Library/ NBAE via Getty Images

When Boston picked Larry Bird in the 1978 draft even though he was not finished at Indiana State, people were stunned: could Red Auerbach and the Celtics do that?

Not only could they, but they had done it before - three times.

After Kentucky got an early version of the death penalty in 1952 following a point shaving scandal, Boston drafted Cliff Hagan, Lou Tsioropoulos and Frank Ramsey, and all three returned to Kentucky in 1953.

So Bird was nothing new.

But Ramsey was.

Auerbach used Ramsey to invent what became known as the 6th man position, a position that John Havlicek would later perfect.

At 6-5 Ramsey could play in the backcourt or at forward and Auerbach could plug him in wherever he was needed.

When Bill Russell came along a few years later, Ramsey was a key to building the Celtics dynasty. A funny story that we think Russell told: when the Celtics played the Warriors late in Ramsey’s career, 6-11 Nate Thurmond had a tremendous vertical and was obviously a tough guy for Ramsey to cover. So instead of contesting the shot, he would just run low, near Thurmond’s feet, distracting him. It was reportedly an effective technique.