Trail Blazers

Ron Culp, athletic trainer for Blazers' 1977 champs, dead at 75

Trail Blazers

Ron Culp, the athletic trainer for Portland's 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers, passed away June 9 in Medina, Ohio.

Culp, 75, spent 37 years as an NBA head athletic trainer, including seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Trail Blazers and Miami Heat, where he was that franchise's first trainer. He was three times named NBA Trainer of the Year and was athletic trainer for USA teams that won gold medals at the world championships and the Olympics.

Culp was so much more than a trainer for many seasons and reasons, going back to the time when NBA teams didn't have strength and conditioning coaches or equipment managers traveling with them. He was responsible for getting his teams and all their baggage from city to city, while being responsible for the health and welfare of all those in the group, as well as serving as something of a concierge to the players.

In my early seasons of covering the team, the Blazers flew on commercial aircraft and I was on the same flights. Culp adopted me and other media members and was always there to help with everything from travel or hotel problems to colds and flu. He was one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met.

Once, on Thanksgiving, we were staying at a hotel in downtown Philadelphia and there was no room service because of the holiday. The team had made arrangements for a Thanksgiving dinner for the players and coaches but I was not invited. When that dinner ended, Culp called me and said to meet him in the lobby.

 

He had called a cab and took me to a restaurant in another part of town that was open and served me a terrific dinner -- and he wouldn't even let me pay for it.

He understood I was away from my family and had no other solution and was kind enough to think of my plight and to make it a  memorable day for me, one I will always remember -- not for the meal but for his kindness.

After he retired from the Heat, he made his home on acreage in Bend for a time, but I think it was a little too solitary for such a people person. Pat Riley brought him back to Miami and he became a popular ambassador for the franchise. He was always proud to flash his business card in those days that read, "Vice-President of Stuff."

In later years, we stayed in touch and his friendly voice on the phone always prompted a smile. He was a great man and a loyal friend -- and I'm sure his former players and coaches will say the same thing.