Grunfeld, Ernie

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GRUNFELD, ERNIE (1955– ), U.S. basketball player and administrator; considered one of the league's top general managers. Grunfeld was born to Holocaust survivors Alex and Livia (Samuel) in Satu Mare, Romania. During the war, Grunfeld's father – later a champion table tennis player, ranked 16th in the world in 1952 – spent time in a Romanian labor camp while his mother spent a year and a half hiding in basements in Budapest before obtaining false papers provided by Raoul *Wallenberg. Her parents and relatives were killed in Auschwitz. After waiting six years – and six months in Rome – they arrived in New York 11 days before Grunfeld's ninth birthday. Growing up in Forest Hills, New York, Grunfeld went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed, went to synagogue with his parents on the holidays, and fasted on Yom Kippur, learning basketball in the schoolyard and playground courts. Grunfeld was a legend wherever he played, first at Russell Sage Junior High School and then Forest Hills High School, where he was All-American and All-City player his senior year, when he averaged 25.4 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. He was also named the outstanding student-athlete in New York City.

Grunfeld was picked to play on the 1973 U.S. Maccabiah team, the first high school player ever to play on a U.S. Maccabiah team. Grunfeld led the team – coached by Harry *Litwack – with 20 points per game and was named tournament mvp, though the team lost to Israel 86–80 in the final.

Grunfeld's star continued to shine as a celebrated guard at the University of Tennessee from 1973 to 1977, when he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a co-star of the "Bernie and Ernie Show" with his teammate Bernard King, a future nba star. As a sophomore in 1975, Ernie was the second-leading scorer in the Southeast Conference with 23.8 points per game. He then played for the gold medal-winning basketball team in the 1975 Pan American Games. The following year, he led the conference in scoring with 25.3 points per game, and his 683 points was then a single-season record for Tennessee. Named captain his senior year, Grunfeld led them to a 22–6 record and the sec championship, averaging 23.8. He was named Converse, Helms, and Sporting News (second team) All-America.

Grunfeld obtained his American citizenship in July 1976, in time to play for the U.S. at the Montreal Olympics, which netted Grunfeld a gold medal.

Grunfeld finished his career at Tennessee with 2,249 points, which set the school record, and 22.3 points per game, second in school history to Bernard King. Grunfeld was picked 11th by Milwaukee in the 1977 nba draft, and enjoyed a nine-season career: two years with Milwaukee, three years with Kansas City, and four years with New York. Grunfeld retired following the 1985–86 season with 5,124 points, an average of 7.4 points per game in 693 career games played.

Grunfeld then worked as the Knicks radio analyst for the msg Network from 1986 to 1989 before becoming assistant coach, vice president of player personnel, and president and general manager of the team. He led New York into the playoffs in all eight seasons of his tenure. In August 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, and the next day he was named president of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards, replacing Michael Jordan.

Grunfeld is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]