New game for Grunwald

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

No writer will ever fill a slow day with a column on why the Toronto Board of Trade should fire their new president and CEO, Glen Grunwald.

There is no superstar entrepreneur to placate, or at least none whose mother has to be accommodated as well.

Grunwald was the general manager of the Toronto Raptors for seven years. He begins his new job with the board of trade in the New Year.

Any similarities?

"Well," he laughed, "in both jobs you wish you had more control."

The board of trade operates a total budget of $17.5 million with a payroll of $6.5 million. It's a lot less than the $50 million player payroll budget for the basketball team but you can see the board of trade's point: Better to get a guy who spent $50 million to handle your $17.5 million than the other way around.

Glen Grunwald was a likable, decent guy in a vicious, often unprincipled business.

He deserves credit for transforming the Raptors from expansion patsies to a playoff entry.

At the end of the club's final home game of his first season as GM, Grunwald took the microphone and promised fans measurable improvement. He delivered.

It was Grunwald who swung the draft-day deal that brought Vince Carter to Toronto, Grunwald who persuaded hall of fame coach Lenny Wilkens to come north, Grunwald who signed Carter, Antonio Davis and Alvin Williams to long-term deals.

It is, as you can see, a mixed legacy and there were plenty of boners along the way, none more spectacular than the $24 million for Michael "Yogi" Stewart whose only failing as a basketball player was that he couldn't play.

The three-year-deal for a long-since over-the-hill Hakeem Olajuwon would come home a close second.

But you can't quibble with Grunwald's love for the city. A native of Chicago, Grunwald was the co-captain of the 1981 NCAA champion Indiana Hoosiers.

Though a draft choice of the Boston Celtics, Grunwald's pro career was aborted by a knee injury.

Instead, Grunwald earned a law degree from Northwestern in Chicago, added a master's degree in business administration from Indiana and set out his shingle as a "capologist," someone who could implement the NBA's Byzantine salary cap.

Grunwald moved to Toronto a decade ago, assumed the GM's chair when Isiah Thomas bolted and lasted until last April before being swept out in a purge that also included his hand-picked coach, Kevin O'Neill.

He married a local girl, Toronto Sun columnist Heather Bird, and became a Canadian citizen in 2001.

'CONTINUATION'

The board of trade advocates for Toronto based-business, stages more than 100 events a year, manages a restaurant, the Board of Trade Golf and Country Club and an airport meeting centre and lobbies government.

"In a way this job is an continuation of what I was doing with the Raptors," Grunwald said, "and a lot of that was correcting misperceptions you sometimes encountered about Toronto. It's a big, vibrant city and a great place to work or do business."

As for the Raptors, Grunwald remains a fan.

"In view of their schedule early in the year, everyone had to stick together for them to come close to .500 and that's one of the issues they're dealing with now," he said. "I'm pulling for (current GM) Rob Babcock."

Babcock is wrestling with trading Carter, ridding the Raptors of Jalen Rose's huge contract and quelling a cancerous dressing room.

Grunwald laughs again. It's a nice laugh. Not wistful, certainly not regretful. Just relaxed.

"You know," said the guy from the board of trade, "it's a tough job, being a general manager in the NBA."


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