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How Michael Jordan and the Late Jerry Krause Won Six Titles While Making Each Other Miserable

Sports RealClearLife Staff
DEERFIELD, IL - OCTOBER 6: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls speaks to the media during his Retirement Press Conference on October 6, 1993 at the Chicago Bulls Practice Facility in in Deerfield, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1988 NBAE (Photo by Lou Capozzola/NBAE via Getty Images)
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls at his Retirement Press Conference on October 6, 1993 in Deerfield, Illinois. Directly next to him is owner Jerry Reinsdorf, followed by head coach Phil Jackson, and finally GM Jerry Krause in the black coat. (Lou Capozzola/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

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.

INGLEWOOD, CA - JUNE 12: Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls is presented the Finals trophy from NBA Commissioner David Stern after winning Game Five of the 1991 NBA Finals on June 12, 1991 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. The Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 to win the NBA Championship. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1991 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls is presented the Finals trophy after winning Game Five of the 1991 NBA Finals while Jerry Krause watches on June 12, 1991 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

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.

4 Jan 2002: A Washington Wizards fan holds a sign directed at the Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause prior to a game at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.DIGITAL IMAGE NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: copyright 2002 NBAE Mandatory credit: Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Copyright 2001
A fan holds a sign directed at the Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause prior to a game at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 2002. (Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Copyright 2001/Getty Images)

 

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