Bobby Grund owned, managed and promoted barnstorming Black basketball teams from the early 1930s until mid-1950s while living in Des Moines, Iowa.
Beloved barnstorming Black basketball promoter Bobby Grund died in 1980 at age 76.
Forty-one years later, his daughter, Patty Grund Ceresnie of Commerce Township, has written a book, Bobby Had Game, about her father’s life and times.
Why write the book now?
“My father’s story couldn’t be more timely with the calls for racial equality happening in our country,” Grund Ceresnie said.
“The book describes what life was like for great Black basketball players in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (there were no Black players in the NBA until 1950).
“In some ways, my father was an early civil rights advocate because of the way he treated and took care of his players.”
Grund owned, managed and promoted barnstorming Black basketball teams from the early 1930s until mid-1950s while living in Des Moines, Iowa. He wrote news releases, coached, booked games and drove players to games among his many duties.
His best-known team was the Famous Globetrotters.
Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, was said to be so angered by the success of Grund’s team that he filed a trademark lawsuit in the late 1940s that resulted in Grund changing his team’s name to the Harlem Road Kings.
Grund was so respected in the world of barnstorming Black basketball that he was honored in 2000 by the Black Legends of Professional Basketball Foundation at its annual dinner at the Cobo Conference Center in Detroit.
He was the first white person honored by the foundation, which was founded in 1996 by former Wayne State University basketball star and Harlem Globetrotter John Kline to bring together former barnstorming Black basketball stars, raise money for inner-city middle school basketball programs, and mentor children who were at high risk of dropping out of school.
Kline called Grund “the smartest and best barnstormer ever.”
Cleo Johnson, who played for Grund, said Grund helped him have a decent life.
“He bought me my first radio,” Johnson said. “My life was better for knowing and working with Bobby Grund.”
Grund’s daughter wasn’t surprised to hear those comments.
“While I remember Bobby Grund as a loving father who brought the most interesting people to our house for dinner, his players remember him as a kind and decent coach and manager,” Grund Ceresnie said.
Bobby Had Game, a 198-page book, is available in paperback for $14.99 or on Kindle for $4.95 exclusively at Amazon.com. The book’s subtitle is “Bobby Grund: The Forgotten Promoter of Barnstorming Black Basketball.”
College instructor, editor and author James Windell co-wrote the book over the past couple years with Grund Ceresnie, a first-time author at age 76.
This is Windell’s 37th book.
Since its release April 4, the book has found a spot on Amazon’s lists of the top 100 basketball and professional wrestling books.
Grund, who moved to Detroit in 1968, promoted pro wrestling and boxing shows after his barnstorming days ended in 1957. He worked with pro wrestling stars such as Leaping Larry Shane, Dick the Bruiser, Bobo Brazil, Gorgeous George and Lou Thesz.
“People have told me they really like the book because it’s easy to read and tells a heartwarming story,” Grund Ceresnie said. “They especially like the profiles of the great Black basketball players and professional wrestlers who worked with my father, and the section on the history of Jews in Iowa.”
Grund Ceresnie lived in Des Moines until she was 19. She said she loved growing up there, especially because of a vibrant Jewish community that had four synagogues, and her father’s barnstorming Black basketball team.
“My father’s players were my best friends when I was little,” she said.
Those players included Marques Haynes, Goose Tatum and 7-foot-6-inch Rayford “Bombo” Johnson.
Grund Ceresnie’s love for singing and dancing matched her love for basketball when she was young. So much so that she sang and danced at halftime shows at her father’s games.
She moved to Southfield in 1971. During the 1970s, she was the singer and leader of the Patty Grant Orchestra, which performed across southeast Michigan at social functions.
She’s been married to Steve Ceresnie, a clinical psychologist, for 47 years.