Ernie the Enforcer
As Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood took to punching each other in the head in recent years, Ernie Grunfeld would frequently attempt to diffuse the "wow these guys hate each other" storyline by talking about how he fought plenty of teammates in his career. And really, who hasn't punched a co-worker now and again? (Awvee Storey, please don't answer that question.) But Ernie, whose number was retired by the University of Tennessee over the weekend, also apparently extended his fisticuffs to his opponents, as in this tale from the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Ernie was kind of our enforcer,'' teammate Mike Jackson said, "a smart, savvy player.''
"He took up for me a lot of times when I was a freshman,'' added Reggie Johnson, who joined the show in 1976-77, "stories I don't want to discuss on the microphone.''
Grunfeld took up for Jackson during a Kentucky game in Stokely Athletics Center. Jackson and Wildcat center Mike Phillips got tangled up after a collision.
"When I went to get up, Phillips bit me on the arm,'' Jackson said.
Later, the teams were lined up for free throws. Grunfeld caught Jackson's eye as if to say: Watch this.
"Everybody was tired,'' Jackson said, "and Phillips was really tired and bent over. Ernie bent down next to Phillips and made sure the official wasn't looking and he sucker-punched him up under the chin.''
That's no Tony Skinn, but it's pretty good. Cheap shots obviously aren't that cool, but you've got to figure that particular cheap shot helped endear Grunfeld to Abe Pollin. Well, the cheap part, anyhow.
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