Documentary Explores the Relationship between Former Dynamic Duo Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld
ESPN Films’ Peabody award-winning 30 for 30 film series wraps up this slate of documentaries next week with Bernie and Ernie premiering Tuesday, November 5, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. In the mid-1970’s, King and Grunfeld joined forces in Knoxville as the backbone of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Soon dubbed “The Bernie and Ernie Show,” the duo averaged 50 points a game on their way to the cover of Sports Illustrated. But behind closed doors, their experiences were vastly different. Bernie and Ernie, directed by Jason Hehir (The Fab Five) and narrated by New York native Chuck D, tells the story behind one of basketball’s most unforgettable tandems.
King was born in Brooklyn, the son of devout but distant Christian parents indifferent to their son’s burgeoning athletic prowess. As he entered adulthood King struggled to deal with a difficult upbringing, and was traumatized in college by incidents of racial bigotry he stoically endured while outside the cocoon of Brooklyn on his own for the first time.
Grunfeld, a Romanian immigrant, was raised in neighboring Queens and grew from a quiet 4th grader who spoke not a word of English to a citywide superstar recruited by 200 colleges. While at the University of Tennessee, Grunfeld, like the rest of their coaches and teammates, was oblivious to King’s suffering. And it wasn’t until years later when they were reunited on the New York Knicks that they became close once again.
This year, Bernard King achieved a lifelong dream – he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Watching at home as he recovered from a recent surgery was lifelong friend, and current president of the Washington Wizards, Ernie Grunfeld. Bernie and Ernie explores an unlikely friendship forged over four decades between two men who seemingly shared nothing in common except the game of basketball. The documentary features commentary by Spike Lee, Darrell Walker, Condredge Holloway, Hubie Brown, Marv Albert and others.
“Bernard and Ernie grew up so close to each other and yet they were worlds apart,” says ESPN Films Executive Producer John Dahl. “This is the story of two New Yorkers who improbably ended up together in the deep south and then put the University of Tennessee on the map for a sport other than football. Without ever winning an NCAA Tournament game, they were so dynamic as a tandem that they became a national phenomenon and then ended up back together with the Knicks in the city where it all began. ‘The Bernie and Ernie Show’ sparked a friendship that has endured to this day and we wanted to tell the story of their relationship.”
All 30 for 30 films from the recent slate are made available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video the day after their broadcast premiere. A six-disc collectible DVD Gift Set, featuring the first fifteen films from 30 for 30 Volume II, will be available at major retailers in-store and online on November 26, 2013.
About ESPN Films
Created in March 2008, ESPN Films produces high-quality films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports. In October 2009, ESPN Films launched the Peabody Award-winning, Producer’s Guild Award-winning and Emmy-nominated 30 for 30 film series. Inspired by ESPN’s 30th Anniversary, the films that made up the series were a thoughtful and innovative reflection on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators. The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway. Additional projects from ESPN Films include the critically acclaimed Nine for IX series, SEC Storied and the webby award winning 30 for 30 Shorts.