After seeing Episodes I & II of ‘The Last Dance,’ rewinding basketball history and going through all of the reactions, it’s undeniable that Jerry Krause was the backstage architect of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. But it’s also an undeniable fact that this team was led by a player many considered to be the G.O.A.T. in all of the world’s sports - Michael Jordan.
It was never a secret that Krause and Jordan didn’t get along, especially now. Still, the bitter relationship between two difficult personalities provided the team with backstage tension. This tension constantly kept the Bulls awake, eager to thrive, and ready to rage against the rest of the league.
The team owner Jerry Reinsdorf was very aware of the constant tension between the two, but as the team thrived and achieved better and better results over the years, he did nothing or very little about it.
Especially amid the 1990-91 season - the Bulls were all about winning. With their EC nemeses, the Pistons and the Celtics aging and injury-prone, Reinsdorf and Krause decided not to change anything in the Bulls winning formula for the breakthrough season.
The history of the Jordan-Krause feud goes way back to 1987 when MJ promised Duke’s point guard, 1986 Naismith Player of the year Johnny Dawkins, that the Chicago Bulls would draft him. However, at the 1987 NBA draft, the Bulls picked forward Brad Sellers, a player MJ never really got along with.
MJ felt embarrassed and betrayed by the Bulls because of his unfulfilled promise to Dawkins.
“Jordan believed that Dawkins would be the choice, and he had told Dawkins so in pickup games they played in North Carolina. So when the Bulls skipped Dawkins for Sellers, Jordan felt embarrassed.”
Sam Smith, ‘The Jordan Rules’
Then, on June 27th, 1988, MJ and Charles Oakley, the NBA’s 2nd leading rebounder for 1988-89, were on their way to Las Vegas to see the epic Mike Tyson fight Michael Spinks. All of a sudden the two inseparable buddies on and off the court learned that Oakley was traded to the New York Knicks in exchange for center Bill Cartwright.
MJ felt betrayed by the Bulls, due to not having his most trusted teammate with him anymore. It was after this deal when MJ began to wonder if the Bulls wanted to win or just keep Chicago Stadium full.
According to Sam Smith, author of the book ‘The Jordan Rules,’ with Oakley gone and the 1988-89 NBA season underway, Jordan had severe doubts that the Bulls’ power forward Horace Grant would fully develop his potential at the position. So, MJ tried hard to lobby for the acquisition of a player who would significantly help the Bulls if he eventually came to Chicago - the experienced Nets PF Buck Williams.
But the deal never happened, and it was the Portland Trail Blazers who landed the fearless veteran on June 24th, 1989. Williams significantly helped the Blazers reach the 1990 and 1992 NBA finals.
Before the 1990-91 season, in which the Bulls won their first NBA championship, Jordan did, however, urge and manage to convince the Bulls’ front office to add another tall player to the already mighty roster in the form of center Scott Williams, from Jordan’s NCAA alma mater - UNC Tar Heels. 6’10’’ Williams went undrafted in the 1990 NBA draft, and the Bulls signed him as a free agent on July 20th, 1990.
As the 1990-91 season progressed, the new Chicago Bulls implemented the novel offensive system called ‘triangle offense’ more and more, and were literally on their way of becoming the UntouchaBulls.
“Less than three months ago, Michael Jordan and those of us in the media who worship at the few remaining follicles of Air Supremacy, regularly rebuked Bulls GM, Jerry Krause, for failing to measure the bench to title specifications. Krause felt his offseason pickups of Dennis Hopson, and Cliff Levingston upgraded Chicago from a perennial Eastern Conference runner-up to an authentic title contender. Both Jordan and Krause were wrong, one louder than the other. But who’s quibbling about amplification? So what if management didn’t adhere to Air Supremacy’s public outcry for Walter Davis or LaSalle Thompson? So what if Levingston and Hopson are coach Phil Jackson’s 10th and 11th men? All that’s supposed to count is the Bulls are undefeated and nearly unscored upon in the playoffs and, considering the injuries plaguing Detroit and Boston, almost a lock to reach the Finals.” -
Peter Vecsey, USA Today
But Jordan was restless - knowing how much trouble the Bulls had with the Pistons, the Cavaliers and the Knicks in the past postseasons, he wanted the Bulls to add some more veteran leadership and firepower to their bench. He was sick and tired of giving his last atom of energy, getting his butt kicked over the years, before seeing the ‘Bad Boys from Detroit’ again advance to the NBA finals over the Bulls.
Jordan had his eye on a 36-year old veteran shooting guard Walter Davis, who at the time was thriving and playing great ball in Paul Westhead’s version of the Denver Nuggets high octane ‘run & gun’ offense.
Davis starred for the UNC Tar Heels during Jordan’s early teenage years and then took his game to the NBA. The excellent perimeter shooter with a picturesque jump shot starred for the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets from 1977 until 1991, while also appearing in the six NBA All-Star games along the way.
On January 23rd, 1991, Davis got involved in a blockbuster 3-team trade, which got him to the contending Portland Trail Blazers (the Bulls’ potential opponent in the 1991 finals), SG Drazen Petrovic and PF Terry Mills went to the New Jersey Nets, and PF Greg Anderson went to the Denver Nuggets.
Jordan felt betrayed, displeased, and under-appreciated by the Chicago Bulls’ front office yet again. After finding out that Davis was on his way to Portland and not Chicago, just prior to the game vs. the Nets in New Jersey on January 23rd, 1991, MJ went ballistic, blaming Krause for the wasted opportunity.
“As soon as we get back, I’m calling (Jerry) Reinsdorf. Krause has messed everything up again. He can’t do anything. ”
When Jordan returned to Chicago, he insisted on meeting with Reinsdorf, while all the while pointing out that Krause isn’t a good judge of talent and the Bulls should have a former player as general manager.
“I figured I’d try to put the pressure on him to do something about Krause. This thing isn’t over. I’m gonna get that guy fired yet. ”
Interestingly, according to Jerry Krause, who passed away on March 21st, 2017, Jordan never directly confronted him over his decisions.
“But I will say one thing for Michael Jordan … he never came to me and asked for other players. He never came to me and asked me to draft a player. Never came to me and asked to trade for a player. Never once did that happen. Part of it was he thought he was so darn good he could win without ’em … He understood what we had to do as an organization.”
Jerry Krause, The Woj Pod
But MJ reportedly did just that, two days after the Davis trade, on January 25th, 1991 loudly telling Krause: “If I were general manager, we’d be a better team.“ - Michael Jordan, January 25th, 1991
At that point, the Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf was pretty much aware that Krause was not a prototypical NBA GM and not the ideal person to run the show. But the team was winning, Chicago stadium was full, and there was little or no reason to fire Krause at that point and step into an uncertain future.
And that’s precisely what MJ wanted at this point, claiming Krause is incapable of making serious deals, other than in NBA drafts, and landing him some of the much needed experienced supporting cast.
“He (Krause) wasn’t a good judge of talent. The Bulls should have a former player as general manager.”
Knowing that this kind of ‘bad blood’ isn’t doing any good for the basketball organization he was building over the years, the Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided to invite MJ to his North Shore residence.
That was the first time Reinsdorf ever invited a player to his home! It happened before the Bulls’ mini Western Conference road trip, which started with a game in San Antonio on January 31st, 1991.
Reinsdorf showed a great deal of understanding for Air Jordan’s remarks on Krause, admitting that the GM he appointed back in 1985 had his weaknesses. But he also sharply pointed out that the team is on a winning course and that Krause made several successful personnel moves over the recent years.
“We are in first place; Jerry’s done some good things. He got Scottie (Pippen) and Horace (Grant) in the draft, and he got us a center (Bill Cartwright).”
If Jordan somehow got a hypothetical chance to direct the Bulls draft and trade policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls team would have featured a total of five players MJ wanted on the team - Johnny Dawkins, Walter Davis, Charles Oakley, Buck Williams, and Scott Williams.
But on the other hand, it would not have had John Paxson, Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright as vital pieces of the early 1990s Chicago Bulls NBA championship dynasty. Plus, it also would have missed out on drafting and bringing over the world’s leading amateur player, the versatile European gem - Toni Kukoč.