Jim Marsh, a former Sonics TV broadcaster and a beloved architect of Seattle-area youth basketball, died Monday afternoon in a Portland-area facility. He was 73.
Marsh, a stalwart in the Seattle sports community for decades, had lived with Parkinson’s disease since being diagnosed in 2004.
“When he got the Parkinson’s diagnosis, he didn’t let that change him,” said Seattle-area radio broadcaster Mike Gastineau. “It impacted him pretty quickly. There was a courage and a bravery in the way he handled that which was really impactful to me. Anybody who goes through that, you’re excused a little bit if you have a poor-me attitude. Jim just didn’t let that be a thing.”
“It didn’t impact him as negatively as it could have. He really dealt with it in a great way.”
Marsh, a 6-foot-7 forward, played at USC before being taken in the 1968 NBA draft when he was selected in the 11th round by the Sonics.
However, he played his entire NBA career (39 games during the 1971-72 season) with the Portland Trail Blazers.
After his pro career, he was an assistant for the Utah men’s basketball teams that won WAC championships during the 1976-77 and 1980-81 seasons.
Marsh spent 12 years serving as a color analyst with the Sonics.
Marsh’s greatest impact came later when he led the successful Friends of Hoop AAU team while serving as a coach and mentor to future NBA stars, including Spencer Hawes, Jamal Crawford, Jon Brockman, Martell Webster, Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas.
“Jim didn’t care if you went on to the NBA or whatever, he treated everyone the same whether you were playing for him or not,” Hawes said. “When I think about him, I don’t even think about the basketball stuff. He developed young men and held us accountable. He taught us discipline, and teaching us all the stuff outside of basketball.”
Marsh, who hosted an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease, also served as the CEO of MENTOR Washington, an organization founded in 2004 that provides mentors to youths.
“I can’t imagine how many thousands of people are sad right now because of this news,” former Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley said. “In a lot of ways he was my best friend. The weird thing about saying that is, he was so many people’s best friend from every possible walk of life. Not just sports, but politics, charitable work and business and nationwide. As much of a figure as he was in Seattle sports, he was beloved across the country.
“Maybe the most selfless person I’ve ever met. He would do anything for anybody. … He had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met. He didn’t discriminate in terms of social position or anything. He was the same to everybody.
“He was almost like Forrest Gump. He knew everybody, and he witnessed everything. He had stories. … And I was lucky enough to hear so many of them.”
There’s the tale of Marsh saving a half-dozen people from drowning in a float-plane accident.
And Marsh was often fond of recounting his first college game and how he “held” UCLA’s 7-2 Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to 56 points.
Marsh wasn’t a star on those USC teams, but he was a smooth-shooting big man who was a team captain as a junior and senior while averaging 13.3 points his final season.
“His legacy is so much more than basketball,” Hawes said. “Just thinking about him brings back so many positive memories. Not just what he did for me, but what he did for so many kids and so many kids that didn’t necessarily have the opportunities that I had. Because of him and his influence and guidance and mentorship, we became better men.
“He’s the most giving person that I’ve ever come across. … I’m not related to him by blood, but I felt like that from the time that we came into each other’s lives, we treated each other like family.”
Marsh is survived by his daughters Sherry and Jenny.
“There’s not a player that came out of Seattle who was a major-college player or went on to the pros who didn’t know Jim,” Gastineau said. “Almost all of them were impacted in a positive way by Jim. Name a great player out of this city, and they’re mourning tonight. They knew this man.
“He helped them and did right by them. Some of them he coached and some of them he coached against in AAU leagues. But they all knew Jim, and they knew when the chips were down, they could count on Jim. Calling him architect of Seattle basketball is absolutely and appropriate statement.”