Grunfeld, Ernie : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Grunfeld, Ernie

Ernest Grunfeld

A member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, Grunfeld was a fabled New York high school star and a celebrated guard at the University of Tennessee in the 1970s. Ernie then played in the NBA for the New York Knicks and other teams. When his playing days were over, he became the General Manager of the Knicks, leading New York into the playoffs in every one of the eight seasons during his tenure. In 1999, Grunfeld became General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, guiding that franchise to the postseason three times in four years.

On June 29, 2003, Grunfeld was released from the final year of his contract with the Bucks. The very next day, the Washington Wizards named Ernie President of Basketball Operations. In accepting the position, Grunfeld replaced Michael Jordan, whose legendary play for his championship Chicago teams did not translate into equal success in Washington, either on the court as a player, or off the court as an executive.

"We had a game plan in place in Milwaukee and we tried to execute it, putting things in place," Grunfeld said to The New York Times. "Now I have to shift focus. I have to try to get a game plan for this situation. It's going to take some time. It's a terrific challenge." "I told you I was going to get the best brains in basketball," Abe Pollin, the owner of the Wizards, told a news conference in Washington. "It was a somewhat longer process than I thought, at times aggravating, but I didn't give up, because I got the guy I wanted."

Born to Holocaust survivors, Grunfeld said of his parents' life in Romania, "My father was in a Romanian work camp, and my mother had spent the war in Budapest, in Hungary. She was not in a camp. She had false papers, and she was like most of the other Jews, living in basements and doing whatever else she could do to survive...We went to temple, and we were observant. As a kid, you remember the holidays...there was anti-Semitism. As a kid, you don't feel it the same way as adults. It was a communist country at the time. Obviously, being Jewish, there was only a certain level that someone could get to."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. April 24, 1955

Career Highlights:
After moving from Romania to New York at the age of nine, Grunfeld learned the game of basketball on the playgrounds and became a celebrated high school star. An All-American and All-City player at Forest Hills High School, Ernie came from an athletic family -- his father was a world-class table tennis player in the 1950s. In 1973, Grunfeld gained one of his greatest honors when he was selected to play on the American team for the Maccabiah Games, the only high schooler in the starting five. While he led the team in scoring with 20 points per game, the U.S. lost to Israel 86-80 in the final.

After receiving recruiting letters from over 200 schools, Ernie decided to attend the University of Tennessee. There he joined with future NBA player Bernard King to lead Tennessee to success; they were called "The Bernie and Ernie Show." As a sophomore in 1975, Ernie was the second-leading scorer in the SEC (Southeast Conference) with 23.8 points per game. The following year, he led the conference in scoring with 25.3 points per game -- his 683 points was a single-season record for Tennessee (it is still sixth all-time in school as of the 2002-03 season).

That season, Grunfeld was named Helms All-America as the Volunteers finished 21-6 (14-4 in conference) and played in the NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history. In the first round of the East Region, Tennessee played VMI (Virginia Military Institute) and lost 81-75. Ernie set single-game postseason school records in scoring (36 points), field goals made (13), field goals attempted (23), free throws made (10), and free throws attempted (13) -- all records still stand as of the end of the 2003 season.

Named captain of the Tennessee basketball team as a senior in 1977, Grunfeld averaged 22.8 points per game and finished second in the conference in scoring (to teammate Bernard King). Named Converse, Helms, and Sporting News All-America, Ernie led Tennesse back into the NCAA tournament on the strength of 22-6 regular season record. Tennessee won the SEC championship with a 16-2 conference mark. In the first round of the Mideast Region, Tennessee lost to Syracuse in overtime 93-88. Ernie scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the contest.

He finished his career at Tennessee with 2,249 points, which set the school record. It has since been surpassed only by NBA star Allan Houston, but Grunfeld is still No. 2 all-time in school history in career scoring. His career scoring average of 22.3 points per game is also second in school history to Bernard King. While at Tennessee, Ernie played for the U.S. gold medal-winning teams in both the Pan-American Games in 1975, and the Olympic Games in 1976.

In 1977, Ernie was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 11th pick overall. Grunfeld spent two seasons with the Bucks before moving to the Kansas City Kings. In 1980-81, Ernie helped lead the Kings (40-42) to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to Houston, 4-1. In 1981-82, Ernie registered career highs in points (1,021 -- 12.7 average), assists (276 -- 3.4 average), steals (72), and blocks (39). The following year, he became a member of the New York Knicks. Grunfeld finished his career as a Knick, after having played in 693 career NBA games.

When he retired in 1986, Ernie remained associated with the Knicks, first as a broadcaster, then as an assistant coach. In 1991, Grunfeld was named the vice president of player personnel; and, in 1996, was promoted to president and general manager of the team. In 1999, however, Grunfeld and the Knicks severed their relationship in the wake of tensions between Ernie and head coach Jeff Van Gundy. In August 1999, Grunfeld was named general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, a position in which he achieved immediate success.

With a team shrewdly put together by Grunfeld, the Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000-01, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers (coached by Larry Brown). In 2002-03, the Bucks missed the playoffs after finishing with a regular season record of 42-40, fourth in the Central Division. Grunfeld is currently the President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards. The Wizards finished the 2004 season with a record of 25-57.

Origin:
Satu-Mare, Romania

Career Dates:
Ernie played at the University of Tennessee. He played in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1977-1979, the Kansas City Kings in 1979-1982, and the New York Knicks in 1982-1986.

Physical description:
6'6", 215 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NBA:
Games: 693
Points: 5,124
Points Per Game: 7.4

Field Goals Made: 2,065
Field Goals Attempted: 4,328
Field Goal Percentage: .477

3-Pointers Made: 33
3-Pointers Attempted: 98
3-Point Percentage: .337

Free Throws Made: 961
Free Throws Attempted: 1,248
Free Throw Percentage: .770

Rebounds: 1,815
Rebounds Per Game: 2.6
Assists: 1,419
Assists Per Game: 2.0
Steals: 472
Blocks: 134

Personal Fouls: 1,511
Disqualifications: 11
Turnovers: 801

NBA playoffs:
Games: 42
Points: 375
Points Per Game: 8.9

Field Goals Made: 146
Field Goals Attempted: 299
Field Goal Percentage: .488

3-Pointers Made: 2
3-Pointers Attempted: 4
3-Point Percentage: .500

Free Throws Made: 81
Free Throws Attempted: 98
Free Throw Percentage: .827

Rebounds: 92
Rebounds Per Game: 2.2
Assists: 121
Assists Per Game: 2.9
Steals: 43
Blocks: 12

Personal Fouls: 89
Disqualifications: 1
Turnovers: 63



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References:
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)


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