A Bay Area giant: Gene Ransom’s legacy will live on

Photo of Gene Ransom
Cal Athletics/Courtesy

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In a field of giants, Gene Ransom stood out.

A 5’9” point guard playing with teammates routinely over 6’3”, he wasn’t gifted with the same kinds of physical attributes as his fellow Bears. But when the ball was in the air and the lights shone down, Ransom went to work.

Sporting a blue and gold jersey for the Cal men’s basketball team for three seasons, Ransom’s first testament of adversity came in 1977. In an unassuming conference matchup against Oregon, the Bears fought tooth and nail to keep the game competitive through four quarters and five additional overtime periods. At the forefront of it all was Ransom.

“I just remember Gene being ultra competitive,” said former teammate John Caselli in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “He was relentless. He pushed the ball up the court and just pushed, pushed, pushed.”

107-102 was the final score, with Cal emerging victorious almost exactly 45 years ago today. It was in Harmon Gymnasium (known today as Haas Pavilion) that Ransom put up 36 total points — a career-high and spectacular performance that sent thousands of spectators into a frenzy.

But even that wasn’t the most shocking statistic by the end of it all.

In playing one of the longest games in Cal men’s basketball history, the Bears were put to the test. Fourteen men deep, Ransom had opportunities to rest. And yet, the future Cal hall-of-famer saw action for 63.5 minutes by his own volition — the most minutes of any player in a single game in program history.

Put simply, Ransom’s performance was surreal; showings such as this earned him the moniker Gene the “Dream.” He was flashy. He was quick on his feet. He had a sixth sense that helped him find open teammates.

When Ransom first joined Cal under the helm of late Cal coach Dick Edwards, The Daily Californian touted the young point guard with the headline: “Edwards lands a giant and he’s only 5-foot-8.”

Over the course of his sports career, Ransom would sign with the Golden State Warriors and later the Oakland A’s minor-league team in baseball. A dual-sport athlete, even the Harlem Globetrotters quickly took notice and offered him $250,000 up front — an offer he would decline to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball.

But amid all of the highlights on the hardwood, Ransom’s legacy continues to live on outside of Cal. A Bay Area local who played for Berkeley High School’s basketball team, he coached his alma mater to a 27-0 record in just his second year at the helm. Ransom also organized Reach Your Goals, a travel basketball team dedicated to helping shape young athletes through community service, and helped combat inner East Bay violence with “Athletes United for Peace” — both meaningful, tangible ways of giving back to a community he so dearly loved.

“20 years ago I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t patient enough. I’m more patient now,” Ransom said in an interview with SF Gate in 2001. “I enjoy coaching. I love it.”

By all metrics, Gene Ransom was an anomaly. He was a point guard with below average height who recorded well-above-average stats for a university student body that looked little like him. Though for Ransom, the support and acceptance of such a crowd motivated him. Taking life one day at a time, he championed a competitive spirit and an even bigger heart.

Ransom was tragically shot and killed on the I-880 freeway in Oakland on Feb. 4. At the Cal men’s basketball home game against Colorado, he was honored with a moment of silence in the house that he helped build. Though his life was abruptly cut short, he will be remembered for a long time, as the memories he blessed the Bay Area with continue to make Ransom stand out in a field of giants.

Ryan Chien is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @RyanChienMedia.