ESPN 30 for 30: Bernie and Ernie (2013)

Directed by Jason Hehir

Life is kind of designed to be a team sport, isn’t it? I could wax poetical about how we’re all tied to each other, every action has a ripple effect, etc. etc., but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about 1 to 1 relationships. Father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister. For some, these relationships are built in luxuries, for others they’re nonexistent. For Bernard King, that was the case. Growing up in Fort Green, Brooklyn, his father and mother were less than compassionate, less than loving. As a result, Bernard spent most of his time on the basketball court, finding ways to occupy his time, follow his passion, and make a better way for himself.

Quite the opposite was Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld, born in Romania, came to America with his parents at the age of 9. He lived in Forest Hills, Queens with his loving mother and father, and a close relationship with his brother. In many ways, however, they were cut from the same cloth. Both from discriminated minorities, both seeking friendship in New York, and both tremendously talented basketball stars, Grunfeld and King soared to stardom on the high school circuit in New York City. They soon migrated their talents to the University of Tennessee. And after three years of success in Knoxville, they took their talents to the NBA, where they finally parted ways, temporarily.

King, a hall of famer, was the superior talent and had the more successful professional playing career. Grunfeld fell into a role player on various teams, including a stint with the New York Knicks alongside his old friend King. Coming from his background, King became lonely and without his friend by his side, he turned to alcohol. His struggle was compounded by injuries, but King was determined to be a superior player in the NBA, coming back from a horrific knee injury and making a hall of fame career out of a rough start in Brooklyn.

All of this is chronicled in quite a fair, typical ESPN manner. The interviews can sometimes come across as scripted or leading, but at the very heart of the matter is the true friendship between Bernard and Ernie, which shines through it all, and is apparent no matter the filmmaking. It is very touching to see King speak of Grunfeld and Grunfeld speak of King. They are true companions through their life, and as Grunfeld says, they are friends no matter how long they go without seeing each other. Whenever they are together, it is like they were never apart. I am not quite sure why they were not at any point interviewed together, but their reunions, their words about each other are convincing, and touching. So while the film may have been unimpressive, the friendship is overly impressive.

**1/2 – Average

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