But hours after the final two episodes of the documentary were aired, and all of MJ’s ten cards were on the table, Krause suddenly reemerged out of nowhere and eventually pulled out his last card! And folks, this one, the last one, was the ace!
NBC Sports journalist K.C. Johnson recently began publishing a series of articles containing excerpts of Krause’s unfinished and unpublished memoirs.
The last article, published on May 16, 2020, hours after the last two episodes of ‘The Last Dance’ were aired, vividly explains the reasoning behind Krause’s most questionable decision – to dismantle the ’97/’98 Chicago Bulls, the very team that won the NBA championships in ’96, ’97, and ’98.
One of the main theses of ‘The Last Dance,’ from what we had seen over the last ten weeks, is that the ’96-’98 Chicago Bulls were able to win at least a couple of more rings in the years following ’98.
The latest excerpt from Krause’s memoirs revealed the complex interdisciplinary reasoning behind the decision to dismantle that majestic team. In short – they got old.
It might sound unbelievable, but in just a decade, from 1988 to 1998, the Chicago Bulls played a total of 177 NBA playoff games, which accounts for more than two full NBA regular seasons! In addition, the constant title runs were very costly in terms of the Bulls positioning in the NBA draft. The team’s last significant draft pick in the 1990s was the European gem Toni Kukoč in ’90.
All that was insignificant to the fans and media alike, who were literally blinded over the years by the superhuman abilities of the Bulls’ Batman & Robin – MJ & Pip. But in the fall of ’98, the two were deep in their 30s – Jordan was 35, and Pippen was 33.
With all of that, more than obvious, Reinsdorf and Krause had to make a business decision. But they didn’t want to do it all by themselves.
Therefore, in early July of ’98, they set up a meeting in Reinsdorf’s house and gathered around the group that featured all of the prominent names from the Bulls’ organization – Jerry Reinsdorf, Jerry Krause, Assistant General Manager Jim Stack, strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil, the team doctors and surgeons, VP of Finance Irwin Mandel, and Assistant to the GM, Karen Stack.
“Put yourself in our shoes as we walk out of that room. What would you do? Did we break up a dynasty, or was the dynasty breaking up of age, natural attrition of NBA players with little time to recuperate, and the salary-cap rules that govern the game?”Jerry Krause, via NBC Sports
It became certain that starters power forward Dennis Rodman and center Luc Longley could be the first ones that might have substantial trouble with injuries very soon. They were right- throughout the next two seasons, The Worm appeared in only 35 games with the Lakers and the Mavs, while Longley lasted for another three NBA seasons with the Suns and the Knicks.
Longley, as well as free agents Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler, was looking for a more lucrative deal. He was traded to the Suns where he signed a five-year contract, Kerr went to San Antonio and Buechler to Detroit. All three received substantially better financial terms with their new teams.
With the team’s top interior players such as Rodman and Longley gone, and the team unable to sign a quality free-agent over the summer of 1998 due to the ’98/’99 NBA lockout, Reinsdorf and Krause had run out of the options in securing solid foundations for rebuilding a championship team.
So, even if MJ somehow convinced Phil Jackson to eventually come back from Montana, the ’98/’99 group would be significantly depleted at the inside positions. Then, the likes of Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoč would be reassigned to new, harder tasks. Out of their natural positions, they would have to sacrifice their bodies, even more, to cover up the deficits on both ends of the floor. Injury risk was going through the roof.
“Can Michael continue his greatness without a center, power forward and possibly Pippen? Could Bill Russell, the greatest team player ever, have won without great players around him? No. Michael has said publicly that he will not play for a coach other than Phil. Phil has told us he’s gone. What does Michael do?”Jerry Krause, via NBC Sports
The breaking point of the unlikely rebuilding scenario for the Chicago Bulls came when Pippen’s agent requested a sign-and-trade deal with the Houston Rockets. Reinsdorf and Krause immediately complied with the request.
With half of the team (Pippen, Rodman, Longley, Kerr, Buechler) gone from ‘Windy City’, MJ would have a tough time in his mission of talking Phil Jackson into returning to the Bulls’ bench.
“Could we get Phil to coach without a proven center, power forward, probably Pippen, a basically new bench and crazy expectations that ‘in Michael, we trust’ can win without help? Not a chance.” – Jerry Krause, via NBC SportsJerry Krause, via NBC Sports
Eventually, Jordan sliced his finger on a cigar cutter and was forced to retire on January 13, 1999.
“When the lockout was over, I still couldn’t talk Phil into coming back. And the big thing is Michael had cut his finger with a cigar cutter, and he couldn’t have played. So what’s all this talk about bringing everybody back when Michael couldn’t have come back?”Jerry Reinsdorf, via NBC Sports
According to Jerry Krause, that’s the truth, and it would make quite an interesting scenario for an additional 11th episode of ‘The Last Dance.’
In the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls were true ‘Basketball’s Beatles’ who achieved global greatness and set incredibly high standards for all future elite NBA teams. But their sudden departure from the stage also gives this most unique team a dimension that many champions, in the entire history of team and individual sports, could just dream of – to call it quits while at the very peak of their power!