How Michael Jordan and the Late Jerry Krause Won Six Titles While Making Each Other Miserable
With the death of longtime Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause at 77, it’s worth remembering both what extraordinary feats he achieved and how he always seemed to inspire less affection than, well, anger.
Krause took over the Bulls in 1985. At the time, the team was coming off four straight losing seasons, but they had a reason for hope: Michael Jordan. In his rookie season, Jordan had averaged 28.2 points per game while shooting .515 from the field and .845 from the free throw line.
This proved to be both Krause’s blessing and curse. He had inherited a transcendent talent, but one so remarkable he ensured Krause would never get full credit for his work building a team. (As countless fans screamed during Bulls’ losses, “How hard is it to win with Jordan?!?”) Krause seemed particularly troubled by this, leading to the premature destruction of a dynasty.
But there are plenty of accomplishments to celebrate: Six championships in eight years, including a title in each of Jordan’s last six full seasons in Chicago. Even the two seasons in between the threepeats were surprisingly strong, as the Bulls reached the second round of the playoffs both years.
Krause deserves a huge amount of the credit for this success. He drafted future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen (out of that basketball hotbed, the University of Central Arkansas), brought in another future Hall of Famer in Dennis Rodman (who was coming off a disastrous run in San Antonio when he was labeled uncoachable and possibly insane), and hired a third future Hall of Famer in Phil Jackson (who had never been a head coach in the NBA). Oh, and he also hired a fourth future Hall of Famer in assistant coach Tex Winter, who developed the Triangle offense that would eventually allow the Bulls basically score at will.
But while Krause was brilliant at spotting potential, he also had a strange gift for burning bridges. He was quoted as saying, “Coaches and players don’t win championships, organizations do.” This enraged many on the team, notably Jordan who, as anyone who watched his Hall of Fame speech can attest, never met a grudge to which he couldn’t cling. (Krause later insisted he said, “Coaches and players alone don’t win championships.”) Sportswriter Sam Smith described Krause as “paranoid;” even in an otherwise sweet tribute to the late Krause, Phil Jackson noted that “Jerry was known as ‘The Sleuth’ for his secrecy.”
In general, Krause struggled to connect with others. In 1990, with the Bulls on the cusp of winning their first title, he gave an interview when he mused, “I know what [people] say. It’s, ‘Hey, fatty. Hey, dummy.'” (He also described himself as a “loner” and said he tried to ignore what others say since people are “fickle.”)
Eventually, things reached the point where Krause decided he could no longer work with Jackson, despite the fact Jackson had just won his third straight title and sixth overall. (Perversely, while bemoaning his lack of a relationship with Jackson, Krause made a point of inviting Chicago assistant coaches and even the man who would succeed Jackson as head coach to his stepdaughter’s wedding, but not Jackson himself.) Jackson left the Bulls in 1998. So did Jordan, never playing for them again. Finally, Krause had a team all his own.
It turned out to be a garbage fire.
Yes, that sign pictured above pretty much says it all. Nevertheless, Krause still showed a gift for spotting talent. His draft picks included Tyson Chandler and Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace). Both players went on to become All-Stars and win NBA titles… just not with the Bulls. Meanwhile, Jackson won five more titles with the Lakers and in the 2002-03 season Jordan still managed to average 20 points at the age of 39 for the Washington Wizards. (This was the same year Krause retired.)
Bulls fans will always be haunted by the sense there should have been at least one more championship, but that angst sells short the six the team did win.
One of the sadder aspects of Krause’s death is that he has yet to be inducted to the Hall of Fame himself—even Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has made it in at this point. Still, Krause must have found some odd satisfaction in watching Jordan (as the Charlotte Hornets’ owner) and Jackson (as New York Knicks’ president) struggle to run NBA franchises in recent years. With both teams currently out of the playoffs, it’s easy to imagine them occasionally thinking, “Maybe the fat man knew what he was doing, after all.”
—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife