Glen Grunwald will be on a plane on his first day at his new job, flying to Tenerife, Spain, to watch the Canadian senior women’s team play in the World Cup.
It’s a hell of a start.
“Hopefully it just gets better after that,” said Grunwald, recently announced as Canada Basketball’s new president and chief executive officer. “It’s going to be great to see them and hopefully they can bring back a medal, that would be awesome.”
If the women do it – and given they are No. 5 in the FIBA World rankings before play tips off Saturday they certainly could – it would the first senior women’s team medal since Canada won bronze at the 1979 and 1986 worlds and fourth time Canada has ever stood on the podium at an Olympics or world championships, going back to a men’s silver medal at the 1936 Olympics.
If Grunwald has his way, it won’t be the last hardware Canada brings home from the hardwood under his watch.
What are his goals for his three-year term?
“Medals. That’s what our mission statement says – our mission is to win medals on the international stage and that starts this weekend at the World Cup – not that I’ve had anything to do with that,” he said. “And then next year with the men’s World Cup and the Olympics in 2020. I’d like to bring medals back from those competitions, that’s our goal and that’s what we’ll be working towards doing.”
Grunwald isn’t naïve. There is a big difference between wishing and achieving, and international basketball has never been more competitive.
But in many ways the Chicago-born, former NBA executive who has carried a Canadian passport for nearly 20 years is perfectly positioned to understand the full picture when it comes to Canada reaching its full basketball potential.
He became general manager of the Toronto Raptors during a 16-66 season as the team played in front of 30,000 empty seats at what was then SkyDome. He executed the draft-night trade that brought Vince Carter to Toronto and watched an icon come to life before his eyes and then – administratively – was a board member at Canada Basketball during the early 2000s, when the organization was at its low ebb competitively and when there were real concerns about meeting payroll and paying rent.
But being an eye witness to the way basketball has exploded in all facets in Canada since he stared into the abyss as a rookie general manager at the end of the 1997-98 season and promised things were going to get better was all the convincing he needed that this was the right job at the right time. After stints in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors and the New York Knicks, Grunwald had a consulting role with the Memphis Grizzlies that was going to require him to leave his former position as director of athletics at McMaster University (due to NBA rules preventing league staff from interacting with underclassmen) but he’ll stay with Memphis while with Canada Basketball.
He’s hopeful his NBA ties can help Canada procure its top players for international play.
“A lot of it is relationships, my relationships with the NBA and the general managers and the coaches. Getting NBA players and understanding the issues there and working with them to make sure the legitimate concerns are addressed and things of that nature,” he said. “I have connections throughout the basketball world, particularly in Canada; hopefully I’ll be able to marshall all of those together and work toward common goals. Getting people to pull together in one direction is one of my strengths.”
Under the leadership of former CEOs Michelle O’Keefe and Wayne Parrish the organization is miles from the days when paying its bills and managing its debt load were the first order of business. Financial stability has improved and Canada is consistently competitive at every age group and across both genders, with both senior teams poised to make podium runs now and in the not-so-distant future.
“There are a lot of good things going on and I need to figure out what the good things are, what we can do better,” he said. “I want to commend Michelle and Wayne for getting the organization to where it is now. I don’t want this portrayed as a disastrous situation, it’s not, it’s a great opportunity and I’m excited about trying to move the ball forward – that’s not a basketball analogy – make the next pass, whatever.”
And he’s more than comfortable taking a helping hand where he can find it. Another former Raptors general manager – Bryan Colangelo – is out of work after being ousted from the role with the Philadelphia 76ers after his wife was found to have made public team information via anonymous social media accounts.
Colangelo may have ambitions of working in the NBA again but it will likely take time for a team to be willing to take on the two-time executive of the year after a shocking story that dominated the news cycle broke in June.
Having a role with Canada Basketball would give him a platform to stay attached to the sport internationally and across the NBA and would continue his relationship with the organization he fostered while with the Raptors.
“I’ve had a preliminary exchange with Bryan and hope to sit down and talk in more detail, but he expressed interest in helping Canada Basketball; when he was on the board he was a tremendous supporter of Canada Basketball,” said Grunwald. “He’s a guy who is very sharp, well-connected and I just have to figure out how that actually happens and what works for him, but I definitely see him being a contributor, in some fashion, to Canada Basketball and I think he is interested. I think it would be great.”
Grunwald isn’t interested in a major shake-up at an organization that has been trending positively for several years, but he does see a specific role for himself in helping bring long-term financial stability to an organization that has always had to operate on a shoestring.
“Amateur sports in Canada is always a challenge financially, and my job is to make sure we have the resources to continue to be successful and continue to get better and that’s going to be one of my primary focuses – to develop a financially successful business model,” he said. “And I think there are things happening, if we can bring them to fruition will lead to that, whether that’s donation programs, corporate sponsorship or other programs that can cover the cost of operating, I think there are a lot of opportunities out there. We just have to execute.”