Granik ending 30-year tenure with league office

Updated: October 25, 2005, 6:31 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN Insider

NEW YORK -- Russ Granik announced Tuesday that he'll be stepping down as deputy commissioner of the NBA at the end of the upcoming season, bringing an end to his 30-year tenure at the league office.

Russ Granik
Granik

The news came as the NBA Board of Governors gave commissioner David Stern a new five-year deal which will keep him at the league's helm though the 2009-10 season.

Granik, who will become a senior adviser to Stern at season's end, will remain the league's main representative to USA Basketball and board chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I decided I wanted to take it a bit easier for a while and then see what I want to do," Granik said. "There are a couple of things in sports that would be of great interest to me. Announcing it this way gives me the time to think about what might make sense."

Granik was the lead negotiator for the NBA in the past four collective-bargaining talks and represented the league in a wide range of projects, including numerous television deals and the formation of the Dream Team that represented the United States at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Generally viewed as Stern's right-hand man, Granik joined the NBA in 1976 as a staff attorney three years after completing Harvard Law School and working as a tax attorney with the son of then-commissioner Larry O'Brien, who told him the league was looking for a versatile attorney. Granik recalled joining the NBA when the league office had fewer than two dozen employees, performing a variety of chores including writing O'Brien's speeches.

He has been deputy commissioner for the past 15 years, often playing the role of bad cop to Stern's good cop when the league decided to take a public posture during labor talks.

Granik's departure will fuel speculation inside the league office that NBA Entertainment president Adam Silver, 43, has become the most likely successor to Stern whenever the commissioner decides to retire.

"We've got an extraordinary number of good cops at the NBA," Stern said, indicated he planned to promote from within to fill Granik's post. Stern told ESPN.com last week that he has no plans whatsoever to step down from the job he has held since 1984, and the Board of Governors' decision to keep Stern in charge for five more years showed a similar disinclination toward change.

"The stability is very important to this league, and the potential over the next decade is huge," outgoing Board chairman Jerry Colangelo said.

Granik, 57, was president of USA Basketball from 1996-2000 after spending seven years as a vice president for the organization that governs the United States' participation in international basketball. He was instrumental in working out the details of the transition to NBA players participating in the Olympics beginning in 1992.

Granik, who graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth in 1969, possesses a down-to-earth manner and self-deprecating sense of humor that often made him the perfect foil for the more serious and bombastic Stern. He also was a crowd favorite once per year at Madison Square Garden, where he often heard his first name chanted while walking onstage to announce the second-round picks in the NBA draft. (Stern announces the first-round selections.)

After Allen Iverson was presented with the Rookie of the Year award in 1997, Granik called the Philadelphia 76ers to express concern that Iverson was wearing a skullcap when he was photographed accepting his trophy. Pat Croce, then president of the Sixers, assuaged Granik's concerns that the skullcap might have some link to prison gangs. Croce even sent Granik a skullcap, and the remorseful deputy commissioner wore it around the office as an act of contrition.

Granik's decision was announced at the opening of the annual two-day meeting of the league's Board of Governors, who are expected to vote Wednesday on a successor to Colangelo as chairman.

Colangelo said he will nominate a replacement and gave a strong indication it will come from the league's old guard of owners. Stern said he expected unanimous approval.

A replacement for Granik will likely be named by the end of the calendar year, although it could take until the All-Star break, Stern said.

Aside from Silver, another league office insider who might be considered for the job is Joel Litvin, Stern's chief in-house attorney.

Granik, who conceded he had lost some of his passion for the job, would be a natural candidate to succeed Bud Selig as commissioner of Major League Baseball or Paul Tagliabue at the National Football League if either job opens up in the next few years.

He said his departure was completely unrelated to his health, saying doctors have told him he is cured after battling prostate cancer three years ago.

"Russ discussed with me his desire to step down as deputy commissioner once our collective bargaining negotiations were concluded, but I persuaded him to stay on for an additional season. He will be functioning as usual for the next eight months, but we agreed that it was appropriate to let the Board of Governors know his plans as far in advance as possible," Stern said.