Posted Sep 4, 2013 11:44 AM
The truth is, having a major role in devising and then pulling off the Dream Team is not his greatest accomplishment. That's probably how Russ Granik is best remembered. It is definitely what got him into the Hall of Fame. It remains, to this day, as historically significant as it was in 1992, the first time NBA players were in the Olympics.
The Dream Team was a revolution in basketball, a global event for sports... yet it's not even Granik's greatest achievement.
For real heavy lifting, there was ... well, everything else.
Compare the NBA of 1976, when he arrived as a staff attorney, to the colossus it became 30 years later when he left as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. Labor negotiations. Expansion. The explosion of television money. And, yes, the international growth that once would have been unimaginable.
Granik helped steady and power the NBA in a critical stage of its growth. Without stability in the league, there was no way to become so prominent in North America. Without a foundation at home, there was no chance for global growth. Without an overseas presence, there would have been no desire from other countries to convince the United States to send its superstars. That would have meant no Dream Team and certainly not the 2013 kind of money coming in for the NBA.
Commissioner David Stern was the man firmly in charge. But Granik, as Stern's No. 2, used a respected behind-the-scenes voice to play a major role in important decisions for decades.
"I really think, in terms of what's my greater contribution, all those things are what I spent 99 percent of my time on," Granik said. "I definitely feel that way. But I recognize that the Dream Team is a very singular thing that stands out and that undoubtedly I expect had a good deal to do with my getting this honor."
FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, initially pushed the idea of the Dream Team with the backing of other countries. There was little resistance when Granik, as the point man on the Dream Team project, approached the superstars who would be needed to bring professionals to the Barcelona Olympics in the style that everyone wanted ... not with a lot of good players, but with the Michael Jordan-Larry Bird-Magic Johnson constellation.
Granik says conversations with then-FIBA security general Dr. Boris Stankovic and then-president of USA Basketball Dave Gavitt helped shape the realization of the Dream Team.
"There's a big misconception that somehow we had a long-range plan for this and lobbied for it with FIBA. That just wasn't true," Granik said. "We knew FIBA and particularly Dr. Stankovic, wanted to get this done, but there was no timetable and we really stayed out of it. But then Dave Gavitt called me one day and said, 'We're having this vote and I'm going to vote against it because that's what my constituents want, but it's going to pass, so we have to start thinking about what we're going to do together.' That's when David and I started talking about it seriously internally. We weren't sure it would be a great thing or not at that point, but we knew that we couldn't refuse to get involved."
Granik was president of USA Basketball from 1996-2000, while serving as executive vice president of the NBA. What he did with the Dream Team won over fans around the world.
"Most of the other countries, they voted for it [the Dream Team] overwhelmingly," Granik said. "What they started to see in the other countries were two things. One, that basically if you don't really have the best players in the world playing in your event, it's kind of hard to convince fans anywhere that the event was that important.
"And secondly, and probably more to the point, they started seeing that a lot more of their players were starting to go play in the NBA and thereby disqualifying themselves from coming back to play in the next world championships or the next Olympics, and they didn't like that.
"If they had a really good player or two that was going to make it in the NBA, they wanted them to keep playing on their national team, even if that meant they were playing for second place for a while. The international teams were very supportive of the whole thing, or at least the vast majority of them were."
As Granik points out, the biggest challenge getting the Dream Team off the ground wasn't found anywhere near the court.
"I think the hardest part turned out to be dealing with all the sponsor issues. You had a structure in the Olympics where, basically, players were expected to cede all their likeness rights at that time. And yet here we had a group of players that had contracted many of those rights to very substantial companies. That turned out to be very tricky, to get all of that worked out.
"The good news was, most of those sponsors -- the sneaker companies, the fast-food restaurants, soft drinks -- that were involved with the NBA or with the Olympics or with any of our players saw that there was something big here and that it was good to be a part of it even if they had to compromise a little bit. As the ball got rolling, it just became obvious this was going to be a bigger and bigger thing."
Now vice chairman of Galatioto Sports, a company that works with owners looking to sell teams or investors trying to buy teams in all the major sports, Granik will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Springfield, Mass., as a contributor. He chose Jerry Colangelo, the current head of USA Basketball and the chairman of the Hall, to be his presenter.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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