SPRINGFIELD, Mass -- The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will induct its Class of 2013 this weekend. Included in the diverse group of players, coaches and contributors to the game are five "direct elect" Hall of Famers: ABA great Roger Brown, little-known basketball pioneer Edward Henderson, NBA Veterans committee electee Richie Guerin and International great Oscar Schmidt. In addition, the rightful inclusion and the Hall of Fame's recognition of former NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik is a wonderful message for the many behind-the-scenes contributors to the global game of basketball.
At times, self-promoting players and media criticize the inclusion to the Hall for non-players of the game. The question arises when referees or executives are enshrined in the hallowed Hall, and the questions often come with a streak of venom and unfounded criticism. At issue is a simple question, really. Should the Hall be for players only? Or, should others, such as great coaches like Red Auerbach or John Wooden, refs like Earl Strom or Mendy Rudolph, contributors such as league and team officials like 24-second clock inventor and Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone or the NBA's first Commissioner Maurice Podoloff, be designated for a separate wing?
I say no and I can highlight the career of Granik as the reason why, noting his official Hall of Fame bio only hints at the amazing impact made.
"One of the most influential contributors to the game of basketball. Granik spent 30 years in the NBA league office starting as a staff attorney in 1976 and finishing his NBA career as the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. He was involved in every major negotiation in the NBA from 1980 to 2005 including television contracts, collective bargaining and league expansion. Overseeing the expansion of the game into the international realm as a key figure in working out the details of professionals (NBA players) competing in the 1992 Olympic Games and subsequent international competitions. He was the NBA's chief negotiator on four collective bargaining agreements and has served as NBA Executive Vice President (1984-90), Vice President of USA Basketball (1989-96) and President of USA Basketball (1996-2000). He was also the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board (2003-2007). In 2005, he received USA Basketball's Edward S. Steitz Award," it says.
The bio just tips the iceberg of the significance of such a key contributor to the game of basketball.
During his career in basketball, Russ Granik was a quiet, but powerful workhorse behind the meteoric rise of the NBA to global prominence in the 1990s. Most importantly, he was a champion for every level of the game of basketball. While his accolades and biography list major NBA contributions such as his negotiations of record-setting TV deals, resolved labor stalemates which resulted in trend-setting, progressive Collective Bargaining and Anti-Drug Agreements with the NBA's players, Granik's most significant contributions resulted from his work with the NCAAs, FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, global leagues, federations, Euroleague Basketball, and, most importantly, USA Basketball.
Under Granik's watch, seemingly unresolvable problems with regard to mending fences, unraveling "red-tape," and creating consensus for the betterment of the overall game of basketball became everyday by-products of a career built on creating goodwill, strong relationships and dealing with people as one would like to be dealt with during a negotiation. That as a professional, a person who is respected and treats people with respect. In essence, Granik is a thoroughly decent human being and he treats his constituents with equal respect. Granik walked softly but carried a resume that could literally part a Sea of Red Tape and, unlike many who only barked of problems while surfacing and creating more problems, Granik would grab a No. 2 pencil, a phone and call upon years of goodwill to resolve most problems before anyone else knew they even existed.
His work in building the NBA-FIBA player pacts, his early recognition of powerful allies with the likes of FIBA Secretary General Borislav Stankovic, the late Coach Alexander Gomelski of Russia and BIG EAST Commissioner/NCAA veep/USA Basketball power-broker (the late) Dave Gavitt, might've earned him induction on its own. Certainly, without Granik's hard work, negotiating skills and willingness to give and take just the right amount, allowed for (former) Eastern Bloc European players such as Drazen Petrovic of Croatia (then Yugoslavia), Sarunas Marciulionis of Lithuania (then of the USSR) and Aleksander "Sascha" Volkov of the Ukraine (then of the USSR) to be the first true NBA global ambassadors, coming to America complete with a bevy of gold and silver Olympic medals but with "game" and a "take it to the hoop" approach never seen before on the international basketball scene.
At the time, the NBA had Georgi Gluchkov of Bulgaria and Henry "Hank" Biasetti, a Canadian player of Italian descent who actually suited up in the NBA's very first game ever, an epic bout between the New York Knickerbockers and the Toronto Huskies in the way back machine that was 1946. But, the league -- much because of Granik -- was quickly thrust into a modern day model for immigration and exportation for talented ballplayers who wanted to travel to find a good game of hoops. While some may call it a theoretical jump, without Granik's work, the Petrovic/Marciulionis/Volkov era internationals would've been sitting in their rocking chairs wondering if they could've ever driven the lane to challenge the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. The confidence instilled upon a legion of countrymen and Euro-Latin-Australian-Asian counterparts might never have gathered the confidence to say, "Yes, I can do that."
The result might've put Dirk Nowitzki in goal for the German Bundesleague, it might've made Argentine Manu Ginobili a striker, U.S. Virgin Isles favorite son, Tim Duncan, a swimmer or China's Yao Ming a rocket scientist, instead of a Houston Rocket all-star center. And, that, would've been a shame.