Tony "Dizz" Grier
Tony "Dizz" Grier (born July 20, 1960 in Port Chester, New York) was one of the first basketball players to be called a "combo guard" by NBA scouts. Today the term is used to describe guards who can play both point and shooting guard.
In 1971, when Grier was just 10 years old, a young Julius "Dr J" Erving showcased his high-flying talent in his neighborhood and it changed the way he looked at basketball forever.
The impact of watching Streetball Overview legends perform on his home turf would rub off in a big way. He watched every move and practiced until late at night until he owned it. He would also dedicate himself to improving his game year-round with shooting and mobility training.
Raised in the projects on the basketball hotbed "The Drive" Grier, a 6'2" "athlete" with "handle" and a "jumpshot" would later journey into the city as a teenager and match wits with Joe Hammond, James "Fly" Williams and a host of other New York City legends.
In high school (1978) he represented New York in numerous post-season all-star games and once traveled to Detroit for a matchup against the Michigan all-stars.
The New York team dominated the tournament held at the famed St Cecilia's Gym and Grier was named MVP as they went 3-0. He had not signed with a college yet. Others who played were Sidney Green and Tony Bruin both juniors.
In the Port Chester CYP Tournament which is considered one of the best post-season all-star tournaments in the country, he was again named MVP after a stellar performance. Riverside Church and the New York Gauchos are top contenders every year. That summer he became known for his patented Mummy Walk, a dribble-body-movement he would do to get around defenders. It became a must-see on the streetball circuit in New York.
With a knack for hanging-in-the-air Grier developed into a spectacular player who could score points in bunches. One talent he could only be born with was his amazing leaping ability (43-inch vertical leap) and later a personal repertoire of streetball dunks. He would amaze teammates by jumping from a flat-footed position under the basket without taking a step and Tomahawk Dunk, and the Elbow Dunk, where he would touch the backboard with his elbow before he slammed.
Before he entered college he had become a streetball legend in parts of New York. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had purchased the team for $10 million from CBS (1973). Grier grew up just 20 miles north of Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees conducted spring training in Florida and Steinbrenner's support of smaller schools there paved the way for Grier eventually finding a college home. The college basketball world found out about his hidden talent the moment he stepped foot on campus.
His grades (and SAT scores) had created a problem for him in high school so he needed a year in junior college to qualify academically. After signing to play at Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Florida (1978) Grier led the state of Florida Junior Colleges in scoring (24.9 ppg) as a freshman and was named all-state. While playing at Polk his academic and basketball skills were sharpened and improved as he developed into a determined and focused Student-Athlete.
Once it became known he had the GPA to transfer after his freshman year he was contacted by the Louisville Cardinals, Duke Blue Devils, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas Longhorns, and a dozen other schools. Most were not aware the recruitment of Grier had already been in the works.
Playing for the South Florida Bulls (1979-82) for (three seasons) he led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring (19.5 ppg) for two consecutive seasons. He was named All-Sun Belt (3 times) and The Sporting News All-American (third team) as a junior while becoming the schools all-time leading scorer (currently 7th).
He also led the team in assists. Unselfish as a player and running the offense at times he led the team in (5) offensive categories including rebounding before finishing third. His ability to pick-pocket(s) on defense made him the team leader in steals throughout his career.
One of Grier's big splashes into the college basketball world came during a televised Sun Belt Conference Game of the Week broadcasted regionally against the UNC Charlotte 49ers.
Going 14 for 18 (32 points) from the floor and totally dominating future NBA first-rounder Chad Kinch, he was named Eastern Airlines Player of the Game. He received letters of congratulations from Charlotte fans who had watched the game on TV.
Carolina basketball fans were treated more than once to Grier's talents during his career. In an earlier game that season they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Florida.
Grier scored 22 points and was matched up against one of his former high school competitors guard Jimmy Black and starter Dave Colescott. However, he was no match for All-Americans Mike O'Koren, Al Wood and James Worthy.
He holds the record as the nations only college player (guard) in NCAA Division I basketball to have at least one dunk (33) in every game (27) his sophomore year (79-80).
In 1980, South Florida opened their new on-campus arena and dedicated it against the Duke Blue Devils. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had once instructed Grier in summer camp and knew of his talent. Duke would win as Grier led all scorers with 26 points. Televised on ESPN with Dick Vitale doing color commentary, it was coach K's first road game as Duke head coach.
That same season Grier led USF to it's first ever post-season bid the NIT against the Connecticut Huskies (UConn) in 1981. Late in the game at mid-court he stripped point guard Karl Hobbs of the ball and went in for a two-handed dunk to even the score. The noise level in the building reached an all-time high. Playing before 10,259 fans in the Sun Dome his legacy would soon be cemeted in college basketball history in the state of Florida.
Once during his senior year with just minutes to play in a game he scored 8 points in 26 seconds (before the three-point shot) to beat the Florida Gators in the Florida Four Tournament (December 1981). Grier had 42 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds in the tournament. Sports Illustrated did a feature story (December 14, 1981).
Famed sports agent Irwin Weiner (Julius Erving) made a special trip to Tampa to meet Grier and watch him play. It was clear his super-talent had been discovered.
Starting the season 3-0 a return trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina would match the Bulls against Michael Jordan and eventual national champion Tar Heels. The game was never close as Grier scored 16 points. The Tar Heels and sell-out crowd in Blue Heaven were too much to overcome.Later in the month playing in the Hartford Mutual Classic before a New England record sellout crowd of 15,425 spectators he was named MVP of the tournament even though they lost in the finals to the host team Connecticut (UConn). In the closing minutes the Connecticut fans erupted into a chant to sway the voters to vote for Grier.
Hartford Courant columnist Owen Canfield wrote about Grier, "Off the court, he's as polite as a king's valet. On court, he's a shark and a high-flying point machine". No player had ever won the MVP award in a losing cause. Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach was one of 12 NBA executives in attendance to witness his high-flying act.
After being compared to NBA guards Gus Williams and World B. Free and called "a playmaker with a great jumpshot" by David Overpeck of Basketball Weekly in his Sizing up the Prospects report, Grier was rated (third) behind Rob Williams of the Houston Cougars and Sleepy Floyd from the Georgetown Hoyas in his (January) NBA Pre-Draft player rating for guards.
It was then because of his multiple skills he became known as the quintessential Combo Guard. Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Bill Musselman (1980-82) commented, "Tony Grier is the most athletically talented guard in the country".
On February 3, 1982 on a road trip in Georgia, Grier and two teammates were passengers in a car when an accident happened while returning to their hotel after practice the evening before the game. The car was totaled.
NBA super-scout Marty Blake, who was based in Atlanta, had driven the short distance to watch him play the next night, "I got there and he was not in the lineup" said Blake. Grier would miss a number of games while recovering from ankle and knee injuries. One key game was a nationally televised game on ESPN. They won the game and played well without Grier in the lineup. But the super-talent would soon be needed again.
Just two weeks after the accident they were scheduled to play in Madison Square Garden against Long Island. A triple-header was planned and it was a true homecoming for the recuperating Grier. He would play only 15 minutes in front of the New York crowd and a number of NBA scouts including New York Knicks scout Butch Beard. Playing himself back to health it was clear his hang-time act had been temporarily grounded.
Some said the timing of the accident while others claimed a sub-par senior year (in conference play) prevented him from continuing as one of the nations most talented players and a sure first-round NBA draft pick. Not receiving a post-season bid (NCAA or NIT) had cut his season short and ultimately his NBA stock wavered.
He continued to work on his game and got back into playing shape in the Panamanian Pro League. Averaging 31.3 ppg, he led the league in scoring. Nicknamed "El Magnifico Canastero" by the Latin press Grier took his game south and played in hot stadiums giving fans a first hand look at American basketball showmanship. He returned to the U.S. a week before the draft.
On the eve of the NBA Draft Grier and future NBA stars Dominique Wilkins and Terry Cummings played in a summer league game against a number of pro players. Grier & Wilkins hooked up on several alley-oop plays to the delight of the New York crowd. This time he returned home healthy and on top of his game.
The next night he was selected in the 1982 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. Meeting George Gervin that summer made him realize how close he was to playing in the NBA. But his dream would have a bump in the road. After being released his basketball-life flashed before his eyes. He would seek another path and continued to play in summer leagues.
Once in a Rucker game he dunked back-to-back-to-back (3 dunks in a row) with the third happening after throwing it off the board to himself then slamming it on three players. This remarkable effort was done in real-time play and not during the current trend of orchestrated streetball we see today.
Another time at the Mount Vernon 4th Street Park courts he tried to throw it off the board on (all five) defenders but was fouled by (NBA player Lowes Moore) after catching the ball high above the rim before he could throw it down. After the game fans ran on the court to congratulate Grier. Even though he didn't complete the dunk, the shock of watching someone try that on (Mt. Vernon) players earned him their respect.
Grier became a Three-Point Field Goal specialist and would sometimes point to a spot on the court as he crossed mid-court (with or without ball) and predict where he would hit a shot. After scoring he pointed again as a reminder to the defender. This style of play can only be appreciated in New York (summer league) play where reputations are made by doing something stunning or entertaining. He was now a crowd favorite.
Playing in the New York Summer Pro League he later teamed in the backcourt with Joe Hammond to beat the Rucker All-Stars at the famed Fordham University summer showcase. Averaging 23.5 ppg he made the all-star team and on some nights played two games traveling back-and-forth to the Rucker to play in the night cap. Gus Williams (NY Gems) lead the league in scoring (33.2 ppg).
In a game in New Jersey, Grier's heroics caused a ruckus after hitting the game winner at the buzzer at Orange Park. During the game words were exchanged on the sidelines with fans from both sides each making their point. The rivalry started a few years back when a New Jersey team (led by Mike Booker) traveled to New York and lost a championship game in overtime. On this day it got personal and they didn't like visitors showing them up again on their home turf. Police had to escort the New York players out.
By then he was known throughout New York as just plain "Dizz". After watching Grier score at will in summer games former Knick Dean Meminger approached him and offered advice on how to prepare for the NBA's bigger defensive minded guards. Meminger recognized his potential and knew much about the (defensive) tricks of NBA players. He shared how former teammate Earl Monroe would get beaten down nightly and still perform.
New York Knicks scout Fuzzy Levane watched in awe as Grier continued to show why he was a special talent. His agent (Ron Gross) received calls from Levane. The Knicks were considering signing him as a free agent.
He had already been contacted by the Ohio Mixers of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) because his San Antonio draft rights were assigned to them. For most New York kids playing for the Knicks would be considered a dream come true. NBA eyes were still watching.
Wilkins, who had previously played with Grier during summer camp all-star games in college was asked by a reporter who were some of the best players he played with or against in summer league games not in the NBA. He paused and then shared a few names, one was Tony Grier.
In later years Grier got to know Earl "The Goat" Manigault and they discussed ways to expand his summer league. He wanted to expose his neighborhood young players to the "city game" and knew the right person to contact was the Goat.
Eventually teams from all over New York and New Jersey were playing in Manigault's league. It was around this time that Grier created a youth foundation in Tampa to help inner-city kids find success. Summer programs in Florida and New York were created and like Manigault he used sports as the hook to reach them.
Manigault was already reaching back to help young kids fight the sting of the streets in his own way. In 1996, Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, an HBO movie about his life was released. Manigault died in 1998 from heart failure.
In 2007, Grier published A Raging Bull: Chasing the Big Time, a history of the University of South Florida basketball program as they entered the Big East Conference. Grier has become a respected Advance Scout for several NBA teams and recently invented a training-basketball that helps shooters with their release and follow-through. He devotes countless hours to helping college and high school players improve their accuracy with his special training.