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Longtime NBA player, executive has Forest Hills roots

TimesLedger Newspapers
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In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Born on April 24, 1955, in Satu Mare, Romania, Ernie Grunfeld is currently the president of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

After a stellar schoolboy basketball career at Forest Hills High School and the University of Tennessee, Grunfeld played for nine seasons in the NBA, the last four with the New York Knicks. He has some 40 years of professional basketball experience as a player and front office executive. He is one of only two Tennessee Volunteer basketball players honored with a retired jersey number.

While in college, he also won an Olympic gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. His son, Dan, played college basketball at Stanford and professionally in Europe and Israel.

The future hardwood star immigrated to Queens with his parents — Holocaust survivors who spoke no English — in 1964. While still a student at Forest Hills, his basketball skills earned him a spot on the U.S. team in the 1973 Maccabiah Games, where the Americans lost in the championship game to Israel.

Following a standout high school career, the 6-foot-6 hoops star took his talents Down South to the University of Tennessee, where he and fellow New Yorker Bernard King teamed up to form the “Ernie and Bernie Show,” averaging over 40 points a game. In his senior year in Knoxville, the hoops phenom was named SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus second team All-American. He left Tennessee as the Volunteers’ all-time leading scorer, a record which stood for 16 years.

With his impressive college resume, the kid from New York turned heads among NBA scouts. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him 11th overall in the 1977 NBA draft, only four slots behind King. Grunfeld played two seasons in Milwaukee before he left for the Kansas City Kings, where he played until 1982. The journeyman small forward returned home to the Knicks for the 1982–83 season, and remained with the orange and blue until his retirement in 1986. Over a career spanning nine seasons and three different teams, the rangy guard averaged 7.4 points in 693 total NBA games.

After hanging up his high tops, he worked for the MSG Network as a radio analyst for Knicks games from 1986 to 1989 before returning to his former team as a general manager. After 10 years in the Knicks’ front office, where his roster moves brought the team to the 1999 NBA Finals against San Antonio, Grunfeld moved on to take the GM position in Milwaukee with the Bucks. In 2003, the seasoned NBA executive finally landed with the Washington Wizards, where he remains today.

In recognition of his stellar career on the hardwood, Ernie Grunfeld was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and his No. 22 has hung from the rafters at his alma mater in Knoxville since 2008. Grunfeld is also a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at (718) 278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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