Kevin Grevey: Basketball to Business
Former Bullet Kevin Grevey Sr. has found success on the court at nearly every stage. He was named Mr. Basketball in Ohio while playing for the Taft High School Tigers in 1971. He twice earned All-American honors at the University of Kentucky, where he was also SEC player of the year in 1973 and took the Wildcats to the national championship game in 1975.
So when his Bullets career got off to a slow start after being drafted 18th in the first round of the 1975 NBA draft, Grevey relied on mentoring from veteran teammates to prepare him for life in the NBA.
That mentoring also lead to his successful post-basketball career in business, mentoring he is now sharing with his son, Kevin Jr.
Father and son have opened Frozenyo, a self-serve a la carte style frozen yogurt franchise in Washington. Kevin Jr., a business management major at George Mason University, is managing the day to day operations.
"I'm happy my son has a chance to learn about business in this environment," Grevey said while sitting store-front, as Frozenyo's lunch crowd bustled.
Grevey Sr., a business major at Kentucky, knew the ball wouldn't bounce forever, but he says he had no idea just how early he needed to plan for his future.
He credits teammates like Wes Unseld, "the Big E" Elvin Hayes, Phil Chenier and Mike Riordan with teaching him the value of preparation during his rookie season.
"I remember they asked me about what I did [that] summer," Grevey says.
His summer was filled with hard work on the hardwood, preparing for his foray into the NBA. But what they meant was had he begun any plans for his life after basketball.
"Even as a rookie, I had veterans telling me to think about the future," he says.
He grew especially close with Riordan, an NBA veteran by the time Grevey arrived.
"Mike was a mentor on and off the court," he says.
Riordan came to the Bullets battle tested, a championship ring already in hand from his time with the New York Knicks. In 1977 Riordan also opened a restaurant, Riordan's Saloon.
Grevey remembers being inspired.
"Mike was living the dream. He was playing basketball and he had a restaurant."
Grevey would later open his own restaurant, Grevey's Restaurant and Sports Bar, now celebrating it's 30th year of business.
Riordan looks back now and jokes about the similarities in their careers. Both were southpaws, both owned restaurants and both won championships.
"[And Kevin] was a first round pick and I was the first pick in the twelfth round," he says.
As a first round pick from a powerhouse like Kentucky, sometimes it's hard to transition smoothly, Riordan says.
Grevey struggled early, averaging just 3.8 and 6.9 points per game in his first two seasons.
Of his transition from college to the NBA, Grevey says "it's like running a hill and then climbing Mt. Everest."
He says he became a sponge, absorbing knowledge from veteran teammates and working tirelessly to improve his game.
Riordan says mentoring was the norm in the League those days.
"It was basically just like being added to the family," he says.
When he arrived with the Knicks in 1968, Riordan says teammates like Dave DeBusschere, Dick Barnett and Willis Reed made him feel at home.
He had a similar experience after being traded to the Bullets in 1971.
"I was accepted like as if I'd been there all along," he says.
Unseld was instrumental in the transition. Riordan also credits Archie Clark and says he bonded with Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson over hours of rehab work in the training room.
It was a tradition to help teammates find apartments, get their families squared away and teach them how to be professionals, he says.
"When Kevin came in, the same tradition was extended to him."
Grevey is now extending that tradition to Kevin Jr.
"It's outstanding, he's always had my back in everything," Kevin Jr. says.
His father's faith in him gives him the confidence to run his own business, he says. That faith wasn't just handed over, it was earned. He worked in Grevey's throughout high school and learned the ins and outs of the business.
"I grew up in that place," he says.
It was there he learned he wanted to be a business owner and also where he watched his dad in action, working the room and making people feel comfortable.
"He's a workhorse. And he's given me that drive, Kevin Jr. says. "He loves to meet people, he's so natural and he can relate to everyone."
As he's talking, business in Frozenyo picks up. The typical 3 p.m. crowd begins to file in. The mood is festive. Up-tempo music plays in the background, loud enough to nod your head to but soft enough to hold a conversation.
A yogurt-seeking line of patrons has formed, stretching nearly out the front door. It runs smoothly, like a Fantasia-style assembly line of hungry customers, yogurt machines on one side, toppings on the other.
An audible "Mmm" can be heard over the music, as one customer enjoys her spoils.
"It is quite delicious. This combination of flavors is particularly terrific," says Elizabeth Joyce in between tastes of her pistachio and chocolate yogurt.
She has come with coworkers from the National Center for Victims of Crime for a mid-afternoon snack.
Jeff Dion of NCVC says he wanted to treat his office to yogurt but worried he may have to pay close to $100 for the group. He says he left paying around $35 for his 10 employees.
"I'm happy and I'll be back," says Joyce.
Kevin Jr. introduces himself and chats with the satisfied customers, undoubtedly a cue picked up from his famously friendly father.
"He was a fun person to be around and a good teammate to have," says Bullets great Phil Chenier of Grevey Sr.
Chenier remembers having some tough battles with Grevey in practice; the two at times competed for minutes at the same position.
"He wasn't afraid to mix it up," Chenier says.
But Chenier also remembers Grevey as a jokester, a guy who acclimated easily because of his personality. Each staples in the D.C. community in their own rights, they remain good friends to this day.
"I really appreciate and value his friendship," Chenier says.
During the 1978 championship run, Chenier's absence due to injury was one of the reasons Grevey got an opportunity to shine. He earned a starting role and made the most of it, scoring 43 points in the decisive first round playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks.
When the Bullets clinched the title in game 7 on the road in Seattle, one of only three teams to ever do so, Grevey says the city embraced them passionately. He originally intended to settle down in Kentucky, but he says winning a championship changed everything.
"This is the greatest city in the world. I love Washington D.C.," he says.
Through The Grevey Foundation, a private charity, Grevey and his family have shown that love. The Charity Golf Classic is the foundation's biggest fundraising event and is now in it's 22nd year. The foundation has helped fund scholarships, after school community activities and mentoring programs.
Mentoring has played such a huge role throughout Grevey's life. His father, Norman Grevey, played basketball at Xavier Universoty and never took it easy on his son on the court. At 13, Kevin Sr. was finally able to beat his dad, a lesson that taught him the value of persistence and hard work.
Even at Kentucky, Grevey was mentored by UK greats like Dan Issel, Louis Dampier and Pat Riley. They taught him about the responsibility of playing Kentucky basketball, and about playing for something greater than yourself.
Every experience prepared him for the Bullets' magical championship season in 1978.
"That was one of the best years of my life," he says.
That year he says he won a championship, opened a restaurant, bought a house, Kentucky won the national championship, and he met his wife, Sandy. A pretty good year by any measure.
Whether it's a quarter or a bottle of wine, Grevey says, "Anything with a 1978 on it, I grab it."