Ernie Grunfeld - President, Washington Wizards
Ernie Grunfeld, in his 10th season as President of the Washington Wizards, relies upon 35 years of NBA experience as a player, broadcaster, coach and executive, to lead the team’s basketball operations. Now in his 23rd season as a top personnel executive in the NBA, Grunfeld’s long list of accomplishments includes two trips to the NBA Finals, four Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 16 playoff berths with three different teams (including 11 straight from 1991-2001 while with the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks) and 17 seasons of at least .500 basketball.
Grunfeld joined the Wizards organization on June 30, 2003. In just his second year in Washington (2004-05), the Wizards won a playoff series for the first time in over two decades with a roster that was largely assembled under his guidance. Four years later, Grunfeld’s Wizards reached an organizational goal of becoming perennial playoff contenders with their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and now aim to rebuild and reclaim their position as one of the NBA’s yearly postseason entrants.
Grunfeld first triggered the Wizards’ ascent in the Eastern Conference with the acquisition of a trio of talented performers in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, all of whom blossomed into multi-time All-Stars in Washington. Arenas was signed as a restricted free agent out of Golden State in 2003, and Jamison and Butler were acquired, respectively, via trades with Dallas in 2004 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005. Midway through the 2009-10 season Grunfeld put the Wizards’ rebuilding efforts into motion by accumulating draft picks and young talent while gaining flexibility that has yielded an up-and-coming team that is well-positioned for the future.
In 2010, Grunfeld ushered in the John Wall era in Washington on draft night in by tabbing the electric point guard with the first overall selection in the draft. He later added Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin that night, who teamed with Wall and Jordan Crawford – acquired along with an additional first round pick in a midseason deal with the Hawks – to give the Wizards the league’s best rookie crop in 2010-11. Wall garnered First Team All-Rookie Team honors, and led all members of the 2010 draft class in points, assists and steals. Crawford, meanwhile, joined Wall and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin as the only three rookies in the NBA to record a triple-double and was one of only four rookies to average double figures in scoring in 2010-11. The Crawford trade continued to pay dividends during the 2011 NBA Draft as well, as after selecting Jan Vesely sixth overall, Washington used Atlanta’s pick to make Chris Singleton a Wizard. With Wall, Seraphin, Booker, Crawford, Vesely, Singleton and 2011 second-rounder Shelvin Mack, Grunfeld crafted a new core in the span of two drafts with seven players selected among the top 34 picks. On draft night in 2012, Grunfeld added another building block to the team’s young core in University of Florida standout guard Bradley Beal with the third overall pick.
In the process of building a contender in the Eastern Conference, Grunfeld’s attention to detail resulted in the renovating and upgrading of the team’s facilities at Verizon Center. The major overhaul included the interior and exterior of the team’s locker room and the basketball operations and coaching offices.
Prior to joining the Wizards, Grunfeld spent the previous four seasons as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, where the team’s 14 playoff wins during his tenure exceeded its cumulative total in the 12 seasons prior to his arrival. During his tenure, the Bucks posted a record of 177-151 (.540) and qualified for the playoffs three times. Included in the Bucks’ run of playoff success was a trip to the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, where they pushed Philadelphia to a deciding Game Seven.
Grunfeld solidified his reputation as a top talent evaluator with a series of second round picks that helped build the Bucks’ roster. Grunfeld’s eye for finding talent in the second round began when he selected Michael Redd with the 43rd overall pick in 2000, as Redd blossomed into an All-Star performer. Grunfeld also tabbed Blatche (2005) and Mack (2011) in the second round of the NBA Draft to stake his claim as a premier draft day executive.
During Grunfeld’s reign as the Knicks’ top personnel executive, New York advanced to the Conference Semifinals of the NBA Playoffs for nine consecutive seasons (1991-99). His tenure included five 50-plus win seasons, three Atlantic Division Championships and two trips to the NBA Finals. In eight full seasons of decision-making for New York, Grunfeld’s Knicks teams compiled a record of 397-227 (.636) in the regular season and a 61-44 mark in the playoffs.
Grunfeld was named General Manager of the New York Knicks on April 23, 1991, and was later promoted to President and General Manager on February 23, 1996. His tenure in New York was punctuated by Eastern Conference Championships in 1994 and ’99, the latter of which marked the first time in NBA history that an eighth seed advanced to the Finals. Remarkably, after Patrick Ewing was felled by injury, the ’99 Finals squad featured an entirely different starting five than the previous Eastern Conference Champion Knickerbockers just five years earlier.
Under Grunfeld, the mid-‘90’s Knicks completely rebuilt and reloaded to an elite level without missing a beat. Highlighted by trades for Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, as well as the signing of free agent Kurt Thomas, Grunfeld’s moves helped catapult the Knicks to the Finals in ’99. Three years earlier, Grunfeld acquired both Larry Johnson and Allan Houston on the same day in ’96. Under Grunfeld’s guidance, the Knicks played in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden from 1993-99.
Originally drafted by Milwaukee with the 11th overall selection in 1977, Grunfeld played in the NBA for nine seasons. After two seasons in Milwaukee, he played for the Kansas City Kings from 1979-82 before signing with the Knicks as a free agent in 1982. Grunfeld retired following the 1985-86 season with a career average of 7.4 points per game in 693 career games played.
Following his playing career, Grunfeld served as the Knicks radio analyst for the MSG Network from 1986-89. Prior to the 1989-90 season, he served as an assistant coach for the Knicks under Stu Jackson before his promotion to the front office.
Born in Romania, Grunfeld came to New York City in 1964 with his father, Alex and mother, Livia. He enjoyed a stellar collegiate career at the University of Tennessee, where he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,249 points. He teamed with Bernard King at Tennessee to form the “Ernie and Bernie Show” and later played with King in New York. Grunfeld was a member of the 1976 Olympic Team that won gold in Montreal.
Upon his arrival in Washington DC, Grunfeld was quick to establish himself as an active member of the community in the nation’s capital. His participation in the organization’s community outreach programs, including Thanksgiving luncheons, holiday gift deliveries, and charitable bowling tournaments helped set an example of excellence for the Wizards and the community.
In May of 2005, Grunfeld was named by USA Basketball to a panel of nine basketball executives that will advise the United States’ men’s senior national program on matters including coaches and players selection.
Grunfeld and his wife, Nancy, have two children, Rebecca Grunfeld, a 2007 graduate of Georgetown Law School who is associate general counsel and director of business development for Snagfilms in Washington, DC, and Danny, a former two-time First-Team Academic All-American from Stanford University, who now plays professional basketball in Israel.