The opening pages of Dan Grunfeld’s “By the Grace of the Game” are hard to read. The caption “The Holocaust, Basketball Legacy and an Unparalleled American Dream” gives an indication of the tragedy and sadness within the pages.
A few chapters later, Grunfeld, the son of longtime NBA player and executive Ernie Grunfeld, explains the atrocities: his paternal grandmother, Livia, whom Dan calls Anyu, which translates to mother in his native Hungarian , lost both parents and three siblings. in Auschwitz and another of his siblings died in a labor camp in Ukraine during World War II.
Other relatives were also killed. And yet his grandmother somehow finds light in the midst of darkness, had a son (Ernie) who came to America without knowing English and became the first NBA player whose parents were survivors. of the Holocaust.
“My grandma always said just because a story is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told,” Grunfeld told USA TODAY Sports. “It was difficult. It’s hard to think of these things happening to anyone, let alone your family. For my father, it was his grandparents who were killed in Auschwitz. For my grandmother, this are his parents and siblings.
“There were tears that fell. There were sad moments. But the book is ultimately full of hope. There was also a lot of joy and laughter. Where my family began and where we ended up found and basketball being that primary vehicle is ultimately a happy and hopeful story.
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Ernie Grunfeld spent nine years in the NBA following an Olympic gold medal in 1976 and a successful college career in Tennessee alongside Bernard King, then embarked on a long front-office career. Dan Grunfeld played college basketball at Stanford and played professionally in Europe before going to graduate school and starting a career in business.
USA TODAY Sports spoke to Dan Grunfeld about his new book.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length)
Q: When did you know you had a book in your hands?
A: “I’ve written a lot throughout my life. When I was acting, I had contributing writer positions. I’ve always loved telling stories.
I knew I had a book in my hands when I retired from basketball. I was thinking next, what story am I going to tell. I had just grown up feeling the deep nature of basketball in my family’s life and being so close to my grandmother knowing what she had been through. It was really when I retired in 2014 that I started seriously thinking about writing this book.”
Q: What else did you learn from researching your family history?
A: “I knew the plot of the story but I did a year and a half of research before starting to write. I asked every question imaginable not only to my grandmother, my father but also to cousins in Israel and Hungary. I really appreciate that the depth of my knowledge of my family history has increased so much. There are a lot of little details that I would never have learned if I hadn’t done all the research, and I’ll give you one, it’s a sad detail. My uncle, my father’s older brother, died of leukemia when they arrived in the United States. My grandfather was painting houses in Connecticut at the time. They lived in the Bronx. They were immigrants, so they had to work as much as they could, so he painted houses. They knew the end was near for my uncle. My grandmother contacted him and told him that you should come to the hospital immediately. He didn’t have a car. He just got driven to Connecticut. No one knows how he got to the Bronx so quickly. But he did. I asked my grandmother if he had come back in time to say goodbye and she said no. It’s a crushing detail but not one I would have known if I hadn’t done the research.”
Q: How did your grandmother leave with hope and forge a life worth living?
A: “She has an amazing spirit and for her to have gone through what she’s been through and overcome what she’s overcome and still be the amazing positive person she is today, it gives us all great joy. hope. She had a great role model in her life who was my great-grandfather who was killed in Auschwitz, and my son is named after her. My grandmother was brought up with a lot of love and a lot of wisdom , and inside of her she just has this amazing spirit, this amazing zest for life, all the pain, all the loss, all the tragedy, life is worth living and life is worth to be well lived and she showed it. She’s the first to talk about these things and to share these things and stories. But she’s also the first to crack a joke and laugh. Her positivity and point of view are so inspiring to me and hopefully others who read the book.
Q: How was the reception?
A: “From my grandmother, we go to the temple every year on Yom HaShoah and they read the names of people in the congregation who have lost loved ones and I hear from my grandmother’s parents and the siblings of my grandmother to be named, and she always told me that they had no graves to visit; they have no death certificates. They were taken to Auschwitz and never saw them again. She says that no one will remember them, but now their stories and memories will live forever in my book. It’s such a proud thing for me, but she’s so proud and grateful for it. It’s such an amazing thing for my Grandmother.
People have been so supportive. People are really intrigued, especially basketball fans who know my dad but don’t know his complex story and background. It’s not something he’s talked about much publicly. The feedback on the book has been positive and because I take writing seriously, it’s also very enjoyable.”
Q: What did your father think of the book?
“He’s very proud of me and grateful to have commemorated a very important story. It’s tough for him. It’s tough themes, tough things that happened, and basketball really gave my dad and my family a new life in America. For him, it brought him away from all this tragedy. So me writing the story and him reading it brings him back to some really painful things. It’s hard for that reason , but in the end, he is proud and grateful.”
Q: Few people knew the full story of your father’s background.
A: “It’s not something my dad ever hid. It’s known. They did a ’30 for 30′ on him and Bernard. It’s in there – Ernie Grunfeld is the son of survivors of the ‘Holocaust. In the book, you’ll see his journey. Basketball came out of nowhere and changed the trajectory of my family, and it gave my dad a new life in America. There was never reason to go over all these painful things. It’s a difficult story. He never had grandparents. They were all killed in the Holocaust. It’s a very difficult thing, so on the human level, you understand that. I talk a lot in my book about privilege. I am privileged in many ways, and one of them is that I have a generation of separation from this tragedy. I can write about this subject with a certain distance. My father never had that luxury. He was so close to it.
There was a certain catharsis in some respects (for my father). It will never be easy for anyone, including me. Once again, I return to my grandmother. Just because the stories are difficult doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be told. I think everyone in my family is certainly happy that I said that.”
Q: What is the message you want the reader to take away from the book?
A: “Hope. We talked about some of the hard things that happened, but it’s a happy and hopeful story. We all want something to believe in and to see a family go through the things that my family went through, staying together, persevering, overcoming, continuing to love each other and having rich, fulfilling lives in America – and, of course, basketball was a big part of that – it’s a story we can believe in and that inspired me and I hope she will inspire others.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dan Grunfeld’s book tells the family’s story from the Holocaust to the hoops