In light of the world premiere of the first two episodes of ‘The Last Dance,’ it would certainly be fair if Jerry Krause, the architect of the 1990s Chicago Bulls dynasty, could tell his side of the story.
But, Krause, unfortunately, died on March 17th, 2017. If he were alive, he would have every right to feel under-appreciated due to how he was portrayed in the first two episodes of ‘The Last Dance.’ It seems somewhat unfair to now publicly comment on the earthly work and deeds of someone who is now gone.
Over the years, Krause did a marvelous job as the Chicago Bulls’ GM, surrounding the world’s best, such as Michael Jordan, with a cast of players who all shared one thing in common – a winning attitude.
“Guys like myself and Larry, who knew the game, who knew championship basketball, we knew the guy (MJ) was coming. Right? He just needed the right horses to go along him.”Magic Johnson, The Last Dance
So, let’s go through some of the significant moves Krause made since taking over as the Bulls’ GM, on March 25th, 1985. Here are 11 moves Krause did that made the Bulls 6 titles possible.
1. He cleared the way for Jordan as an emerging NBA superstar by dealing away forward Orlando Woolridge and letting go of free-agents Quintin Dailey, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore in the summer of 1986
2. Krause provided MJ with a superb supporting cast including power forward Horace Grant and small forward Scottie Pippen, both selected in the 1987 NBA draft. The two, as they matured, became the key to the Bulls’ bypassing of the biggest EC nemesis, the Detroit Pistons, in 1991. In the 1991 NBA finals, Pippen was the one who locked down the 1990 NBA MVP Magic Johnson by playing a smothering defense
“He is brilliant to me in terms of being able to look at talent and evaluate it. He had a great eye for putting the right chemistry together. What he was able to do as a GM was pretty magnificent. He helped assemble one of the greatest teams which ever played on an NBA court.”Scottie Pippen, NBA.com
3. He hired assistant coach Phil Jackson from the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) as part of the Chicago Bulls coaching staff in 1987. Jackson took over as head coach from Doug Collins in 1989 and was instrumental in implementing the ‘triangle offense,’ an offensive system that helped the Bulls complete two ‘three-peats’ during the 1990s. As such, the Bulls became the second team ever after the Boston Celtics (1959-1966) in NBA history to manage achieving a ‘three-peat,’ not once but twice.
“The reason I was hired is that he did not follow the crowd, he followed his own mindset. He slid into arenas; he would buy his own ticket and sit where people didn’t know where he was at. He made sure that every rock is overturned where he looked at.”Phil Jackson, NBA.com
4. Krause got rid of a robust power forward Charles Oakley in the summer of 1988. Oakley was MJ’s protector on the court, he wasn’t shy of picking a fight with anyone, but whose relationship with Jordan perhaps became way too relaxed and too close and as such was threatening to disrupt late the Bulls’ team chemistry
5. In exchange for Oakley, he added experienced center Bill Cartwright, who proved to be vital in stopping the Bulls’ EC nemesis, the New York Knicks, especially his longtime teammate, superstar center Patrick Ewing.
6. On October 29th, 1985, the Bulls signed guard John Paxson for $175,000. Six years later, in the 1991 NBA finals, it was Paxson who punished the Lakers by hitting a series of open jumpers, every time MJ was doubled.
7. At the beginning of the 1990-91 season, Krause replaced four players from the 1989-90 roster. He got rid of ineffective Ed Nealy, Charles Davis, Clifford Lett, Jeff Sanders, and Jack Haley. He added the energetic and explosive PF Cliff Levingston, SG Dennis Hopson, and rookie center Scott Williams while locking down the number of players on the roster for the season at 12. The Bulls’ second unit in the period between 1989 and 1993 became one of the strongest in the NBA, arguably strong enough to make the postseason on its own. For example, in 1990-91, it featured PG B.J. Armstrong, SG Dennis Hopson, SF Cliff Levingston, PF Stacey King, and C Will Perdue.
8. After Jordan decided to leave the first time (in 1993), Krause immediately went to work and quickly brought in experienced defensive stopper Pete Myers and the jordanesque Ron Harper, a player who took over as the starting point guard for the 1996-1998 Bulls championship teams.
9. In the summer of 1993, Krause brought in Croatian forward Toni Kukoč. The player who the Bulls drafted with the 29th pick overall in 1990 is today the player many still consider the most versatile non-American player of all time. The 1990 FIBA World Championship MVP proved to be the best possible call for the role of the ‘glue guy’ on the 1996-98 Bulls championship teams, eventually winning the NBA’s Best Sixth Man award for the 1995-96 season
“He just had a way of advanced thinking; he always looked forward to find the new people, to add new pieces, and to keep the team going.”Toni Kukoč, NBA.com
10. After the Bulls won their 2nd championship in a row in 1992, Krause sent power forward Stacey King to the Minnesota Timberwolves for center Luc Longley, who later became the starting center on the 1996-98 Bulls championship teams
11. Longley’s emergence in 1994-95 made Will Perdue expandable. So, before 1995-96, Krause traded Perdue to the Spurs in exchange for the NBA’s leading rebounder Dennis Rodman. The troublesome member of the ‘Bad Boys’ from Detroit became one of the main pieces of the Bulls 1996-1998 championship puzzle
All these moves put Krause’s name on a prestigious list of rare NBA team executives who managed to win the NBA Executive of the Year award twice – he did it in the 1987-88 and 1995-96 NBA seasons.
“Toni Kukoč, Rodman, Ron Harper…athletic, long-armed, multiple position players. Jerry was kind of ahead of his time because it’s how the NBA is played now. His imprint on those Bulls teams is undeniable. Jerry was the architect.”Steve Kerr, NBA.com
As for Brad Sellers, Krause’s pick in the 1986 NBA draft, who Jordan reportedly didn’t want on the team, it’s true that the prototype point-forward proved ineffective, especially in the postseason. But Sellers, who was always more conventional than controversial, tried hard to do whatever coach Collins asked him to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
If the Bulls had somehow drafted the player Jordan wanted in the 1986 NBA draft, point guard Johnny Dawkins from Duke, it’s highly questionable how long Dawkins’ run with the raging Bulls would last. Dawkins had many problems with injuries over his 9-year NBA career, and it’s also doubtful whether he would fit into the role of the supporting point guard to play alongside Jordan.
We are talking about a category of guards such as Craig Hodges, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, and Steve Kerr, who were self-sufficient in holding down guards and capable of knocking down big shots.
Interestingly enough, as the Washington Wizards GM, MJ kind of repeated Krause’s mistake with Sellers, one of the rare ones, by trusting a pre-draft promise made by a young man named Kwame Brown and making him the 1st overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft.
Furthermore, with Krause hypothetically out of the Bulls’ equation, and Jordan making the franchise surround him with players like Johnny Dawkins and Charles Oakley, it’s not hard to envision the Bulls’ failing to fulfill their promise before falling apart in a scenario reminiscent of the Barkley-led Philadelphia 76ers.
So, no matter what MJ says now, there is no way the Bulls would have won their six championships without the personnel moves previously analyzed and arranged by the one and only Jerry Krause.
“We think this is going to be a very good basketball team; if we could stay healthy, it’s going to be an excellent team.”Jerry Krause, NBA.com
Especially bearing in mind that the Bulls won all those championships after introducing the revolutionary new offensive system named ‘triangle offense,’ brought in by their assistant coach Tex Winter. It was their new head coach Phil Jackson who had the hard task of selling it to the NBA’s longtime leading scorer Michael Jordan before the 1990-91 season, openly asking him to sacrifice individual numbers for the team’s betterment. And Jackson, the man who Krause brought over to the Bulls from the CBA, did just that.
The fact that it was Jerry Krause who brought in Phil Jackson is also emphasized by the Chicago Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf in the first episode of ‘The Last Dance.’
So, however you put it, two significant events directed the Chicago Bulls’ 14-year long path of becoming the most dominant NBA team of all-time – the 1984 NBA draft, when the Bulls selected Michael Jordan and the 1985 promotion of scout Jerry Krause to the function of General Manager.
“Jerry Krause was a great General manager. I mean, he inherited Michael Jordan, but that’s all he inherited. He found Phil Jackson coaching in the Continental Basketball Association. He found Scottie Pippen. He put all the pieces around Michael.”Jerry Reinsdorf, NBA.com
Subsequently, first and foremost, for Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause, each decision they took in the process of building the Bulls dynasty was strictly and only – a business decision.
They did it all the way with the explicit intention of building a corporate culture and organizational structure as a prerequisite for the future Bulls dynasty. With the personal dimension entirely out of the deals they made, their logic was somewhat different from the prevailing philosophy shared by the media and fans alike.
“Anybody can be traded.”Jerry Krause, The Last Dance
Contract negotiations are a typical example of the Bulls making a decision as a business organization. In Pippen’s case, he had every right to feel under-appreciated in regards to his 1991 seven-year contract extension worth $18 million. But was he forced to sign it? And who is to blame for it? Reinsdorf and Krause? It was just another in the series of business decisions for them. Was Toni Kukoč the one to blame and put aggressive pressure on in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in the clash between the original Dream Team and Croatia? Or was it Pippen’s agent in the first place who didn’t do his job of consulting his client?
Actually, in his first season with the Bulls (1993-94), Kukoč agreed to play for less money ($1,025,000) to help the Bulls with their salary cap and accommodate Pippen, making him more comfortable in the role of team leader in Jordan’s absence. That season, Pippen made $3,075,000.
Subsequently, it was that tension, the mind games and the money game, between the Bulls’ front office and the team that kept the Bulls alive and kickin’ in the 1990s dynamics of the NBA. That differed them from all the other NBA franchises and made them Champions and a bench-mark for ages.
And Jerry Krause was the architect of it.
After the 1996-97 season, Krause felt he deserved more respect from the players, who were openly making fun and cursing him, and overall recognition from the fans and media alike for the things he had done.
After ‘The Last Dance’ in 1997-98, he, somewhat strangely, decided to let his mature wunderkind, a group that is still considered to be the Beatles of basketball, to walk off the stage, just like that.
“I am so proud of these players and this staff. And this is for fans back in Chicago, the greatest sports fans in the world”Jerry Krause, NBA.com
He was the Bulls’ GM, the team was his ‘kid’ in a way, and he defended his business decision to his dying day.