While many people are familiar with the names of the Chicago Bulls two three-peat title teams of the 1990s in Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson, there is one person that is just as important. It is the General Manager, who was responsible for bringing in Jackson as well as drafting Jordan, Pippen, and many other key players to those title teams. Unlike a lot of GM’s who schmoozed and networked their way to the top of a pro sports organization, this Chicago native was someone who kept to himself. He used what he learned as a scout that got him to the top of not just the National Basketball Association, but in Major League Baseball. That tireless work over five decades is a major reason he is a finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, if Mr. Krause’s name is announced for the 2017 Class in two weeks from Monday, he will not be in person in Springfield, OH to give a speech.
Mr. Krause, who was the Bulls’ GM from 1985-2003 and a two-time recipient of the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award in 1988 and 1996 passed away on Mar. 21 after battling health issues. He was 77 years-old.
Mr. Krause is survived by his wife Thelma and their two children Stacy and David; and his grandchildren Colette, Josh, Mia and Riley.
“The news of Jerry Krause’s death is a sad day for the Chicago Bulls and the entire NBA community,” Jackson, whose is now President of the New York Knicks said in a statement last week.
“He was a man determined to create a winning team in Chicago-his hometown. Jerry was known as “The Sleuth” for his secrecy, but it was no secret that he built the dynasty in Chicago. We, who were part of his vision in that run, remember him today.
Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets echoed those same feelings by stating, “Jerry was a key figure in the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s and meant so much to the Bulls, the White Sox and the entire city of Chicago. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Thelma, his family and friends.”
While he may have been mostly known as the architect of the Bulls two three-peat title teams of 1991-93 and 1996-98, they are just a small piece of the lengthy resume of Mr. Krause.
At his core, he was a scout who was just as talented at evaluating basketball players, but baseball players as well.
He was as comfortable being in minor league fields for teams like the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox and in recent years the Arizona Diamondbacks, who appointed Mr. Krause as a special assistant in their scouting department on Apr. 1, 2011, to being in the bleachers of collegiate gymnasiums representing the then Baltimore Bullets, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, and Bulls.
To bring this point home, for 12 years Mr. Krause worked as a scout for both the NBA and MLB where he managed to finish his hoops scouting for the NBA draft in just enough time to get his work completed for MLB’s draft.
Nearly five years back in a story in the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Krause acknowledging from an interview he did for the digital media basketball site “The Vertical” that he felt very deserving of enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame for his work as a GM for the Bulls, but as a scout. He had already had the inscription for his tombstone written, which stated: “Here lies the heart and soul of a scout.”
He kept those same principles he learned as a scout to the high-profile job in the front office.
Mr. Krause was somebody who did not like to deal with the media, who worked in direct opposition to scouts as they tried to get insight on players that only had value when those facts were secret.
He was someone that was never comfortable when the spotlight was on him and when former Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers executive Pat Williams dubbed him “The Sleuth.
There is one mystery though that did not take a genius to figure out. That is the fact that Mr. Krause’s job got a lot easier when he inherited “His Airness” when White Sox’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf added the Bulls to Krause’s portfolio in the spring of 1985.
One year earlier in December, Mr. Krause was the advocate behind the trade that brought in shortstop and future manager Ozzie Guillen to the “Windy City,” who led them to a World Series crown back in 2005.
While Mr. Krause did not draft Jordan, who fell to the Bulls and then general manager Rod Thorn at the No. 3 spot overall when the Portland Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie one spot sooner in the 1984 draft.
Krause did manage to assemble via the draft the other players around Jordan twice that resulted in championships.
He drafted Charles Oakley two years later to watch Jordan’s back in a more physical get after it, take no prisoners if necessary NBA in the middle 1980s.
In the 1987 draft, Mr. Krause and the Bulls acquired the rights to Pippen from the then Seattle Supersonics, who was selected with the No. 6 overall pick out of Central Arkansas and power forward Horace Grant, out of Clemson with the No. 10 overall pick.
“If we had not kept the Scottie Pippen thing as quiet, it never would have happened,” Krause said to “The Vertical.” “That alone is worth keeping secret.”
Mr. Krause hired Phil Jackson to his first NBA coaching job, taking him from the then Continental Basketball Association’s (CBA’s) Albany Patroons to an assistant on head coach Doug Collins’ staff. He would then be promoted to head coach replacing Collins before the 1989-90 season. Also in this time span of two years, Mr. Krause traded Oakley to the New York Knicks for center Bill Cartwright as he was convinced by Jackson and his mentor and assistant coach Tex Winter that Cartwright and his skill set would be a much better fit for their triangle offense.
Jordan strongly opposed the trade because not only was Oakley his best friend on the team, he was his protector on the court, especially against the hated Detroit Pistons, who the Bulls could not get past in the playoffs. It also did not help the fact that Jordan learned of the trade: via television when he and Oakley headed to Las Vegas, NV to see a Mike Tyson fight.
Jordan’s mood about the deal quickly changed when Cartwright played very well on both ends on the court during the Bulls first three-peat from 1991-93. He was especially effective against opposing centers like Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing of the Knicks, the Bulls’ biggest rival in the Eastern Conference in the 1990s.
The key role players in the Bulls’ first three-peat via the draft, free agency and trades consisted of the likes of B.J. Armstrong, Scott Williams, Stacey King, Cliff Levingston, Will Perdue. John Paxson, Bobby Hansen, Trent Tucker, and Darrell Walker.
Following the Bulls’ 1993 title, Jordan retired and the team did manage to make the playoffs the following season, but lost to the Knicks in seven games in the Semifinals.
During that season that Pippen really emerged, the Bulls had a rookie on the team named Toni Kukoc, a young star that Mr. Krause discovered through his European contacts and began courting him. That did not sit well with some in the organization, especially Jordan.
It was a small thing like that which made Jordan nickname Mr. Krause “Crumbs,” referring to his obese and slovenly stature.
In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Jordan, and Pippen for Team USA in the gold medal game, guarded Kukoc to the point that they wanted to send a message as if the fact that you were even on the mind of the Mr. Krause was considered an insult to them.
Jordan Biographer David Halberstam once said that Jordan and Pippen, “seemed to play against Kukoc as if they had a vendetta,” and that “in the end, it was as if they had been playing not against Kukoc, but against Krause.
Jordan later would be quoted as saying: “The trade of Oakley was good, and the best thing he did was to get Pippen and Grant. That’s it. His claim to fame is that he drafted Earl “The Pearl” Monroe for the [Washington] Bullets. And I say to him, ‘What pick was that?’ He says, ‘Two.’ And I say, ‘Hell! Earl Monroe was a real secret, huh? A real secret? If you hadn’t taken him, he’d have gone third!”
As with the first key acquisition in the Bulls first three-peat, Kukoc would end up being a major contributor the Bulls in their second three-peat from 1996-98, as would another addition to the team back in the 1994-95 season in Ron Harper, who at first did not fit in because the Bulls wanted him to be the scorer he was in the early part of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Both player would fit their role with the Bulls with Harper becoming a lock down perimeter defender and Kukoc a Sixth Man that can score and play make for others.
Other key additions during the second three-peat included Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, John Salley, Jud Buechler, Randy Brown, Jason Caffey, Luc Longley, Robert “The Chief” Parrish, the late Bison Dele, who was then Brian Williams and Scott Burrell.
The biggest move that Mr. Krause made during this second three-peat was the signing of Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.
If there was any deal that had the potential to blow up right in the face of Mr. Krause and the Bulls, it was this one. While Rodman was one of the best rebounders and defenders in the league and made a major name with the Detroit Pistons, especially on their back-to-back title teams of 1989 and 1990, he became more known for his antics and Type A personality while he was with the San Antonio Spurs the two season prior to him coming to the Bulls.
Mr. Krause had all the confidence in the world though that the strong personalities of Jordan, Pippen and Jackson and their culture of winning and knowing your role and playing it to the fullest would keep Rodman in check enough to where he would grab rebounds and play tenacious defense, which for the most part he did.
Through all the squabbles with salaries and the clashing of egos and Jordan’s 15-month retirement after the first three-peat, the Bulls under Mr. Krause manage to win six titles in eight seasons, which had not happened in the NBA at that time since the Boston Celtics’ wave of titles in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, it was comments like this from Mr. Krause when he once said, “Players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations win championships,” that did not sit well with Jordan, Jackson, and many others.
It created an atmosphere to where Mr. Krause would be isolated from the entire organization despite all the winning that was taking place.
While it might have broken many, Mr. Krause made it work for him and even once said to the Chicago Reader 27 years ago, before the Bulls began winning their six titles, “I’m a loner.”
“All those years on the road, I stayed to myself and didn’t make a lot of friends. I had a job to do. I can’t worry about what people say. People are fickle. When we’re winning, I’m skinny. People come up to me and say, ‘Jerry, you look good, you’re losing weight.’ But when we’re losing, I’m the ‘fat little s---’ You know something? I weigh the same. I haven’t gone up or down six pounds in years. That’s just the way people are. I can’t let it distract me from my goal, which is to win a ring. It would mean something special to me to win a championship ring in this town.”
For the high of winning six titles in the early and the middle of the 1990s both when the Bulls were at the old Chicago Stadium and the early years of the United Center, Mr. Krause failed to remake the Bulls into a title team again in the late 1990s and early 2000s around Elton Brand, Jamal Crawford and then head coach Tim Floyd, who came from the college game. It did not get better when the team decided to build the team around high schoolers Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler and a young big guard in current ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose. On top of that, a young Jason “Jay” Williams never got his career off the ground, when a motorcycle accident on June, 19, 2003 nearly ended his life, but ended his NBA career in the blink of an eye.
“I obviously made a poor decision that hindered my career, but the one person who constantly stayed in my corner was Jerry Krause,” Williams, a college basketball analyst for ESPN said on the Mar. 21st edition of “Pardon the Interruption.”
“You’re not going to be defined by your mistake. You’re going to be defined by how you get up and you combat that mistake. The world lost a great one today. A great person.”
While Mr. Krause may not have had a lot of friends inside the Bulls’ organization and outside of it, he did have one person in his corner was Mr. Reinsdorf, who said at his introduction into the Hall of Fame last year that he should have been inducted into the Hall before him.
He did not make a lot of friends in his time as a scout in the NBA and MLB or as a GM with the Bulls. At the height of the Bulls’ success of winning titles, the fans sided with Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, and the other visible heroes of the team during any dispute that went public when Mr. Krause was involved. However, when Mr. Krause left this Earth a last week all the sports shows and media outlets in the “Windy City” voiced and expressed their appreciation for what he did. Fans going forward will fully see the banner that bears his name and tenure in the rafters of the United Center right next to the ones that represent the titles won by the team in the 1990s and the jersey of all the great players that played for Chi-town.
To illustrate the mentality of Mr. Krause after he stepped down from the Bulls in 2003, he went right back to scouting for the New York Yankees and Mets, White Sox, and the previously mentioned Diamondbacks at various points until his health took him down.
The hope is that he is elected this weekend to the Hall of Fame at the Final Four in Arizona so the entire basketball world could know and learn about the self-describe “scout at heart” and someone who became one of the best behind-the-scenes guys in professional sports. Who found talent and had a way of getting that talent drafted to the organization he worked for before anyone else had a chance.
Information and quotations are courtesy of 3/21/17 5:30 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” presented by Guinness Irish Wheat with Tony Kornheiser and Jay Williams; 3/22/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Rick Kamla, Caron Butler and Sam Mitchell; 3/22/17 www.nba.com article, “Scouting Roots Fueled Jerry Krause as He Built Chicago Bulls’ Championship Roster,” by Steve Aschburner; “Sporting News Official 2006-07 NBA Guide;” www.fabwags.com/jerry-krause-wife-thelma-krause/; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Krause and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Williams.