Home At Harmon
There have been many memories and stories shared about Gene Ransom since he was tragically and senselessly shot and killed on a Bay Area freeway earlier this month – memories of him playing hoops as a youngster at the YMCA on 10th Street in West Berkeley, his teenage years as a standout three-sport athlete at Berkeley High School, his days in the late 1970s as a collegiate player at Cal that over two decades later would get him inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, his life as an adult shaping and improving young people's lives working with organizations such as Athletes United for Peace and Reach Your Goals, and much more.
"Gene clearly meant so much to the Cal and Berkeley communities," Cal Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton said. "We've seen an overwhelming outpouring of love and support since his passing. We're heartbroken that we've lost him, but we can find solace knowing how many people he positively impacted."
In the days since the tragedy, stories of Ransom's legendary status have been told and retold. What many may not have realized is the significance Cal's old Harmon Gym played in helping Ransom reach such a status.
Long before he ever put on a Golden Bears' uniform, a young Ransom would hang around Harmon admiring basketball players, such as fellow Cal Athletics Hall of Famer and West Berkeley native Phil Chenier and his college teammates. Ransom wanted to soak in everything about Cal basketball and the local players he idolized. He would even visit the Harmon training room to watch Cal players get ready for practices and games.
Years later during a 1993 Athletes United for Peace roast for Chenier, Ransom recalled how a long-time Cal athletic trainer, the late Bob Orr, would always kick him and his friends out of the training room when they were in their formative years.
After being told to leave on many occasions, Ransom finally decided he had had enough.
"I told Bob, 'One day, you're going to tape my ankles,'" a wittingly funny Ransom told a crowd that responded with uproarious laughter while speaking at Chenier's roast.
Ransom would eventually become well known for his basketball prowess, and years later, he made good on his promise by playing three seasons for his hometown Bears. Ransom averaged 14.8 points per game over 80 contests to finish with 1,185 career points. In a five-overtime home win against Oregon on Feb. 10, 1977, he played an amazing 63.5 minutes - still the Pac-12 record - and scored a career-high 36 points.
Not only did he star on the court while playing for Cal, he added to his standout status during legendary summer pickup games at Harmon.
"The place to go if you were a serious basketball player was the middle court at Harmon Gym," said filmmaker Doug Harris, a friend of Ransom's who featured him in his documentary about the Tournament of Champions high school basketball playoffs. "You couldn't get on that court unless you had some serious game. When you went to Harmon in the summertime, you got a chance to see Gene in his natural element. It gave all of us basketball players an opportunity to play with and against Gene, and that was special."
The games at Harmon often included players from the Golden State Warriors, as well as top NBA and college hoops talent with Bay Area ties, including John Lucas, Sonny Parker, Purvis Short, Larry Smith and Gus Williams to name a few.
"Gene was the king of that court," Harris said. "He used to rule them all."
And it was during those summer pickup games on that coveted center court at Harmon where he was right at home.