Robert F. "Ace" Gruenig (March 12, 1913 – August 11, 1958) was a well-known United States amateur basketball player during the 1930s and 1940s. The 6 ft. 8 in. Gruenig is considered as one of the game's first great big men. He was a ten-time AAU All American and a Hall of Famer in both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Helms Basketball Hall of Fame.
In high school, at Crane Technical, Gruenig led his school to the Chicago Public High School League championship in 1931 over a potent Phillips team led by star player Agis Bray. At that time the center jump was employed after every basket score, and with rangy Gruenig tipping the ball, Crane got the ball just about every time.
Chicago Amateur Leagues
After high school, Gruenig began playing amateur ball, and in 1932 led the Judge Henry Horner Boosters to second place in the Central AAU tournament, losing to the title game to Bill Haarlow and his Schuessler Athletic Club team, 25-21. He also played for the Romano Triangles, which during the 1931-32 season played in the Windy City League with such teams as the Hannin Did Its, Eller Big Five, and the Lindstrom All Stars (the latter led by future baseball hall of fame player Freddie Lindstrm).
Gruenig played in the Knights of Columbus League for the St. Cyr Council team, and led it to two consecutive Knights of Columbus championships, in 1933 and 1934. He attended Northwestern University, but withdrew after his freshman year without having played for the varsity.
Gruenig first made his mark in basketball history at the 1933 AAU national championship tournament, playing for the Rosenberg-Arveys from Chicago. The team named after two sponsoring politicians, was essentially the work of two star players, Gruenig and Joseph Reiff, an All-American forward for the Northwestern University Wildcats. The Rosenberg-Arveys surprised the field by taking second place in the tournament to the Diamond DX Oilers, from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gruenig was named to the second team AAU All-American (all star) squad. The following year, Gruenig played for the same Chicago team, now renamed Lifshultz Fast Freight Company, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the AAU tournament by Diamond DX Oilers, 40-38.
Playing for Denver
Gruenig was recruited for the 1934-35 season by Denver Piggly Wiggly, and the team was narrowly defeated 30-28 in the quarterfinals of the AAU tourney by the Southern Kansas Stage Lines. The following year the Pigs became the Denver Safeway Stores, and Gruenig took the team to the quarterfinals, only to be narrowly defeated 31-30 by the Universal Pictures team. In 1937, Gruenig took the Safeways all the way to the national championship and was named first team AAU All-American (all-star). Gruenig was subsequently named AAU All-America First Team nine more times (1938-40, 1942-46, 1948). He was named most valuable player in 1942 and in 1943. In his last AAU tournament game in 1948, he led all scorers with 104 points, and retired to "a tumultuous ovation from the 7,000 fans."
After the 1937 championshp, Gruenig led the Denver Nuggets to the title in 1939 and Denver American Legion to the title in 1942. Gruenig was dropped by the Denver team after the 1945-46 season, and for the 1946-47 season he played with the Murphy-Mahoney Chevrolet team. In 1948 and 1949, he ended his basketball career playing for a new professional Denver Nuggets team, but this time in the National Basketball League.
Gruenig was elected to the Helms Basketball Hall of Fame in 1957, and was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player, on August 11, 1963. He and his Denver teammate, Jack McCracken, were enshrined together in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.