Former professional basketball player, author Dan Grunfeld’s father — Ernie Grunfeld — is the only known athlete in NBA history whose parents survived the Holocaust.
Former New York Knicks forward and general manager Ernie is a New York City legend. He made a name for himself throughout the 1970s, eventually attending the University of Tennessee alongside Basketball Hall of Fame legend Bernard King.
The dynamic duo was dubbed the ‘Bernie & Ernie Show’ while stacking up accolades, including a whopping three consecutive SEC Player of the Year awards (1975-77). Ernie scored 2,249 points with Tennessee, setting a record in 1977.
His No. 22 jersey hangs amongst the Tennessee Volunteers’ elite, including King, Dale Ellis, and Alan Houston. But this is only one side of this incredible, third-generational tale — which Dan shares through countless stories.
However, none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Dan’s grandmother “Anyu.” She survived Nazi evasions of the Budapest ghetto before fleeing to the United States for a better life with her husband and two children in tow.
Dan Grunfeld: ‘I Was Born Around The NBA Schedule, Born Into The Game’
She lost both her parents and three siblings at Auschwitz. Dan’s new book, “By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream,” recounts it all, including his grandmother’s harrowing fight for refuge and a better life; from years spent in Russia to eventually reaching New York City.
“I just always grew up kind of understanding the profound impact that basketball had had on my family, and I love to write, I love to tell stories,” Grunfeld told Heavy.com in an exclusive sitdown. “So, as I got older, I started to learn more about it. My basketball career ended, and I had a little more space in my life. There came the point where I said, ‘now is the time,’ because this story means the world to me, and it was one that I think the themes are relatable. You know, survival, perseverance, family, legacy; all of those things.
“So, I just wanted to — really, really wanted to — tell a good story.”
Growing up the son of an NBA GM wasn’t bad for Dan. After playing nine seasons in the NBA, his father, Ernie, transitioned into the Knicks’ front office in the early 90s and was eventually promoted to president and general manager in 1996.
Naturally, Dan fell in love with the sport at a young age.
“I was born around the NBA schedule, born into the game,” he explained. “From my earliest memories, just being around basketball whether it was at home with my dad and my family, or at Knicks practice, or at Knicks games. I was always around it.”
Dan Grunfeld: ‘That History That I Carry, Really Drove Me’
For Dan, the experience sparked a dream and a vision — which yielded a professional career, including playing eight seasons overseas and becoming the second Grunfeld ever to don a Knicks uniform. However, he knows it all came at a price of hard work, perseverance, and above all, faith.
“It speaks to some of the tension and some of the struggles that I had being very motivated and wanting to achieve, and wanting to be successful partly because I felt like I wanted to be a great player like my dad was, and part of it is I want to honor my family’s history,” Grunfeld said. “From people who didn’t get the chance to live out their dreams, who passed away in the Holocaust, and my uncle passing away. So, all that history that I carry, you know, it really drove me, motivated me.
“So, I was focused on being successful in basketball and in the classroom, and it’s good to be motivated. It’s good to push yourself.”
Dan admits that the process of writing a book about his family’s legacy was taxing. But, he’s confident its contents will better serve others who relate to ‘Grace of the Game’ beyond its basketball parameters.
“What kind of person are you? How do you treat people? That’s what really matters, and that’s what my grandmother shows,” Grunfeld explained. “To be a good person. To live with integrity, to have those values; that is so much more of a forever thing.”