Ron Culp, the first athletic trainer in Miami Heat history and the longest-tenured in league history when he retired, died on June 9 in Medina, Ohio, his daughter said in a Facebook post.
He was 75. Cause of death was not disclosed.
“Ron Culp was the first basketball person I met when I came to Miami 26 years ago,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “I feel great sadness in hearing the news of his passing as he was not only a colleague, but both him and his wife, Marilyn, were great friends of mine.
“They did so much for not only the Heat, but also the City of Miami that will never be forgotten. His name hangs from the rafters in honor of his great contributions to building this franchise and helping us become a World Champion. Ron was dear to all of us and we pray for their family. He was loved and will be missed.”
Culp spent 37 years as an NBA trainer, including 21 with the Heat before his retirement in 2008.
He was three times named the NBA’s Trainer of the Year.
The Heat held him in such high regard that the organization retired his name on a banner and named the training room after him.
He often wore a red trainer’s apron, and the Heat shipped that to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“What was very striking about Ron was that he seemed to know everything about everything,” said Tony Fiorentino, who was a Heat assistant coach during part of Culp’s tenure as the team’s trainer. “When it came to medicine and all the things that could affect some one, he seemed to have a very good knack of knowing how severe an injury was. Because it’s not that simple — everybody is different, each player’s injury is different, each player is different. Some guys, you got to help them decide between pain and injury and he seemed to be very good at that. He had a sixth sense about it.”
Culp in 2004 surpassed former Phoenix Suns trainer Joe Proski for the most seasons as a head athletic trainer in NBA history.
Culp began his NBA career in 1970 as the first trainer of the then-expansion Cleveland Cavaliers. He joined the Portland Trailblazers in 1974 and worked there until 1987, earning a championship ring with the 1977 team.
The Heat hired him after it was awarded an expansion team that began play in 1988-89.
In the summer of 1994, Culp was the trainer for the United States team that won the gold medal at the World Championship of Basketball in Toronto, Canada. He was also one of the trainers for the U.S. Olympic “Dream” Team that won the gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Culp moved to Bend, Oregon after retiring, purchasing a small acreage with a horse barn.
But Culp - whose wife Marilyn died in 2006 - was lonely in the Pacific Northwest and returned to South Florida to handle projects for the Heat organization and make public appearances for the team.
“My title is ‘Senior Director of ‘Stuff,” he told Portland Trail Blazers writer/broadcaster Dwight Jaynes in 2011. “It’s perfect.”
The Heat has had only two trainers in its history: Culp and current trainer Jay Sabol, who worked under Culp for 13 years as an assistant trainer.
“Jay is the perfect example, as a trainer, of Ron’s legacy,” Fiorentino said. “Because the transition from Ron to Jay was effortless and I think a lot of that is because Jay is a very good trainer and he learned under Ron.”