Dan Grunfeld’s family has a compelling story of overcoming Holocaust, adversity through basketball – The Virginian-Pilot

Dan Grunfeld’s book, “By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream,” is about overcoming adversity, meeting challenges, and finding meaning in life.

The book, released last November, is about Grunfeld’s family, including his famous father, Ernie, a former basketball player and NBA executive. But the real hero of the book is his grandmother, Lily, who survived the Holocaust.

“I grew up understanding the profound impact basketball had on my family,” Grunfeld told me last week. “My father was well known as a player and executive, but nobody knew he was born under communism in Romania and was a Holocaust survivor.

“My grandmother is 97 years old. He’s the star of the book, and he’s the star of our family. I always knew that basketball meant so much to us and the journey my family has taken from surviving the Holocaust to reaching the top of the Olympic podium. It has become my dream to tell this story.

Grunfeld will discuss his book on Wednesday at the Jewish Book Council Network conference. The conference is free and will take place at the Sandler Family Campus of the Tidewater Jewish Community.

Hunter Thomas, director of Arts & Ideas at the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, was part of a committee that discussed authors to bring to the conference.

“It can be very difficult to limit yourself to about 20 authors from this group,” Thomas said. “For some, you know right away.”

This was the case with Grunfeld.

The book took Grunfeld five years to write. Before he started, he knew he needed his grandmother’s blessing. She would be the one who could give him the baggage he needed.

“I knew she had been through something traumatic and dangerous,” he said. “She lost five of her siblings and both her parents were killed. My grandfather lost his sister and his parents.

“We talked about everything,” he added. “Some of those conversations were really difficult, but I’m glad we had them, because you have to know your story, especially when it comes to world history. It’s something the world doesn’t. I’ll never forget. The more I learned, the more detail I got, it got deeper and deeper. And I think the book is very rich in detail. I think a lot of that is because my grand -mother was so open and so honest in sharing what happened throughout her life.

Grunfeld, 38, feared his grandmother would leave out some details because of the pain it would cause. But she didn’t.

“Some people don’t want to talk about it or feel pressured to,” he said. “And my grandmother was in that last camp. She always – even when I was growing up – talked about what happened. She wanted us to remember her loved ones who were killed.

“There were a few details where she was like, ‘I don’t want to tell you because it’s so upsetting,’ because she’s seen things and knows things that you can’t imagine human beings messing around with. to each other. But I told her we had to talk about it, and she did, she shared everything with me.

His story alone was worth a book.

But that of his father too.

Ernie Grunfeld immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was 8 years old. He was often teased and bullied for not speaking English. He escaped to the basketball court where he taught himself how to play the game.

“He learned the game in New York and he learned to work with my grandparents,” Grunfeld said of his father. “My dad was just competitive, determined and outplaying people. The lesson he learned from his parents was this fighting spirit. I don’t think he would have gotten this far, this fast, if he hadn’t walked away from all this tragedy.

After rising to fame in high school, he set a new school record as Tennessee’s all-time leading scorer. He also played with Team USA at the 1975 Pan American Games and the 1976 Summer Olympics. He played nine years in the NBA before becoming general manager and then president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards from 2003 to 2019.

“Dan’s incredible message and story was one we felt we absolutely needed to bring to our community,” Thomas said. “Jews have had a major impact on sports around the world, but Ernie Grunfeld’s rise to the NBA from the streets of Hungary, after his parents survived the Holocaust, is, as Dan included in its title, an “Unprecedented American Dream.” We just felt the Tidewater community needed to hear that story.

Dan Grunfeld was also a star basketball player. He was an all-state high school player in Wisconsin, later played at Stanford where he earned All-PAC 10 first-team honors in 2005 and an Academic All-American. In 2009, he led the United States to gold at the Maccabiah Games and played nine seasons professionally overseas.

Various publications and television channels have also told the story of his family.

“We all loved the game because the game is fun,” he said. “But for our family, it was always a little something special because I knew what it did for us. No one could have ever predicted that, but what it did for my dad and my family, it changed everything.

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Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, [email protected]. Twitter: @LHRubama

What: Jewish Book Festival

When: Wednesday, 7.30 p.m.

Where: Sandler Family Campus of the Jewish Community of Tidewater, Virginia Beach

Admission: Free and open to the community

Register: https://ujft.salsalabs.org/grunfeld/index.html

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