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Grunwald shifting gears, retires as CEO and president of Canada Basketball

TORONTO — When Canada Basketball cleaned up its offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, Glen Grunwald said they unearthed plans for a national training centre going back to the 1980s.

TORONTO — When Canada Basketball cleaned up its offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, Glen Grunwald said they unearthed plans for a national training centre going back to the 1980s.

Grunwald announced Wednesday that he was retiring as president and CEO of Canada Basketball, handing the reins to Michael Bartlett.

But he isn't leaving the game, and will pivot now to one of his passion projects: getting that desperately needed national training centre built — finally.

"Now is the time, there is a tremendous shortage of playing facilities for players across the country," he said. 

The 63-year-old Grunwald, who will remain with Canada Basketball as executive advisor for basketball operations, said one of the most common complaints from stakeholders is the lack of basketball facilities. The absence, he said, is particularly glaring in the Toronto area. 

Plans call for an eight-court facility in Hamilton, Ont. Land has already been donated, and there's an agreement with the City of Hamilton in place. 

"There's been over 7,000 publicly-funded ice arenas in this country. There haven't been any basketball facilities funded in this country," Grunwald said. "And unlike other countries that are world class, in terms of their performance internationally, we don't have a national training centre, (like) Australia, France, the U.S., you can go through the list there."

He also pointed to the Mattamy National Cycling Centre, built in Milton, Ont., ahead of the 2015 Pan American Games. 

"We saw that in the Olympics, when the cycling team won a gold medal," he said in reference to Kelsey Mitchell's victory in the women's sprint.

"I just am passionate about that," Grunwald said. "And that's what I'm going to focus my efforts on going forward. And I'm going to keep bothering everyone until somebody agrees to fund this thing."

Grunwald moved to Toronto from Franklin Park, Ill., to help launch the Raptors in 1994. His three decades as a basketball executive included seven years as the Raptors' general manager. 

He became president and CEO of Canada Basketball three years ago, a period that he said included some of the most rewarding and impactful moments of his career.

There were also disappointments. The Canadian men's team failed to clinch a berth in the Tokyo Olympics after hosting the last-chance tournament in Victoria and compiling arguably the most talented team yet. And the women's team that had been intent on climbing the medal podium in Tokyo didn't advance out of the group stage.

"We anticipate and expect that we will. That has to be how we get out of bed every day," Grunwald said. "And quite frankly, it should be who we are as a country. We should be medalling in men's and women's Olympic competition."

Grunwald acknowledged that the search for funding partners is a "chicken-and-egg scenario." Better international performance would help secure funding.  

He pointed to the recent performances of Canada's age group teams. The U19 men won bronze at their FIBA World Cup. The U16 girls were second at their recent FIBA Americas tournament, while the boys were third.

"The pipeline is performing. We anticipate and expect and will hold ourselves accountable to better performances in AmeriCup and World Cup and Olympic competition for our senior team," Grunwald said. "But the story and the confidence that we can give to the corporate community and partnership world is that there is performance that we can count on, be proud of and quite frankly better their brands as contributors to our brand. We believe that story."

Bartlett joined Canada Basketball as chief operating officer in March, and will continue to be focused on growing the business of basketball in Canada.  

"Having the opportunity to lead this organization during undoubtedly the golden age of basketball in Canada is a dream and I look forward to continuing to build on Glen's tireless efforts over the last three years," Bartlett said. 

Bartlett comes to the organization having spent the past 10 years in a variety of roles with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, including most recently as the vice-president of community affairs and events.

In a virtual media availability Wednesday, he talked about a Canada-wide 3x3 tournament that would help funnel some money into the national programs. 

"Every dollar we raise above our bottom line, break even, is gonna be invested back into the game. Whether that be the national training centre or the experience that we're offering all of our age-group athletes with the training and development and the competition experience that they have from travel and accommodation," he said. 

Bartlett travelled to Tampa when the Canadian women were training there ahead of Tokyo — pandemic restrictions prevented them from training in Canada. The women were told to expect "equity-first, first-star treatment from here on in," Bartlett said of that visit. 

"And we had the same conversation with the men. We just had that meeting in Vegas (at the NBA Summer League) and we promised them that we're hitting the streets every day to commercialize this business so that we can give them a Canada Basketball that they can brag about in a professional locker-room," Bartlett said. 

"The experience they have when they play for us and when they put on that crest, that Maple Leaf, is one that we want them to brag about."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press