"Saying Jerry Krause built the six-time champion Chicago Bulls is like calling Jurassic Park a Jeff Goldblum flick." - ESPN's Bill Simmons
Jerry Krause, an ugly little toad of a man, was the general manager of the Chicago Bulls from 1985 to 2003. Second only to his boss, Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (the two were collectively known as “The Jerrys”) he was likely the most hated man in Chicago.
Although he put together one of the greatest basketball teams of all time, Krause’s legacy is that of an ego-driven, stubborn, humorless, vindictive liar who drove away Michael Jordan and destroyed the Bulls dynasty. He was booed by fans at championship ceremonies, mocked mercilessly by Jordan (who stuck the doughnut-munching GM with the nickname "Crumbs") and publicly scorned by numerous Bulls players and coaches, perhaps no man in sports history has been more reviled in his own community and by the members of his own team. Krause needed the world to know he was the best and the brightest. He couldn't just make trades; he had to win them. He couldn't just hire coaches; he had to save them. He couldn't just draft players; he had to discover them. All to serve his own overblown sense of himself.
Born in 1938, Jerry Krause started out as a scout for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1980s where he was given the nickname “The Sleuth” for his ability to find good players in out of the way places. In 1985, Jerry Reinsdorf transferred Krause over to the basketball team he owned and gave him the task of building a championship team around the newly drafted Michael Jordan.
It was during Krause’s first season as GM where the rift between him and Michael Jordan began to emerge. Jordan broke his foot at the beginning of the ’85-’86 season and was eager to come back and play as soon as it healed. After several weeks, he had a doctor take his cast off and Jordan began to secretly practice and rehab his foot. He was ready to return by mid-February, but the season was already lost for the Bulls, who were abysmal without him. Krause realized that if Jordan didn’t come back, the team would continue to drop in the standings and would receive a higher pick in the NBA draft. Jordan played severely limited minutes for the rest of the season simply so Krause could try and show off his scouting abilities. Krause used the #9 pick in the 1986 draft to select Brad Sellers, a total bust, and passed over John Salley, Del Curry, Mark Price and Dennis Rodman.
The 1987 draft was Krause’s masterstroke. He selected Olden Polynice and Horace Grant in Round 1. Then he shipped Polynice and a second-round pick to Seattle in return for the draft rights to Scottie Pippen, whom the Supersonics had selected three spots ahead of Polynice in the first round. Grant provided excellent rebounding and defensive abilities for the Bulls first three championship teams, and Pippen played for all six championships and was named one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history. It was because of these moves that Krause was awarded his first NBA Executive of the Year award in 1987.
In 1989 Krause traded Bulls toughman Charles Oakley for center Bill Cartwright, a defensive anchor and regarded as the only center in the league that could stop New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing. This was an excellent deal for the Bulls, but Oakley was Michael Jordan’s best friend on the team and the trade only deepened the rift between him and Krause. 1989 was also the year that Krause took a nobody ex-CBA coach named Phil Jackson and made him the head coach of the Bulls.
From this point on it seems like Krause did much more to hurt the Bulls than he did to help. His sole job was really to acquire role players that could support Jordan and Pippen in their championship runs. He succeeded in doing this on the free agent market, but almost all of his draft picks were complete disasters. The Bulls received no significant players in the draft from 1990-99. His major move in the 1990s was the signing of Dennis Rodman, who plugged a defensive hole that opened after the loss of Cartwright and Grant and the aging of Jordan. Rodman also succeeded in keeping opposing players occupied with his antics and took the heat off of Jordan. I still can’t help but smile when I think of Rodman’s complete psychological destruction of Seattle Supersonics power forward Frank Brickowski during the NBA Finals.
Krause received his second Executive of the Year award after the Bulls 72-10 season in 1996, mostly thanks to his acquiring of Rodman, 3-point virtuoso Steve Kerr, and Toni Kukoc. It was just before the 1998 Bulls championship that Krause uttered one of the most famous quotes of his career, declaring, “Players and coaches don’t win championships. Organizations win championships.” His massive ego couldn’t handle the fact that the love of Chicago was heaped upon Jordan and the players and he always did everything he could to steal the limelight and power for himself.
During the final Bulls 3-peat, Krause began to flaunt his friendship with Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd and stated that he couldn’t wait to rebuild the Bulls after Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, and the rest of the team broke up. After the 1998 season, Krause managed to force out Phil Jackson, which caused Jordan to retire (again). Krause then traded away Pippen and several other important players from the championship years for next to nothing and hired his fishing buddy Tim Floyd as head coach. Krause broke up the most dominant basketball team of the last thirty years in order serve his own ego.
The Bulls immediately plummeted in the standings. Krause’s young draft picks were not working out as he planned, so he tried to sign big free agents. Unfortunately, Krause had gained such a reputation for being a backstabbing liar that no one wanted to play for the Bulls and the team continued to stink up the court. A team that had won six championships in eight years had gone 93-280 in the following five seasons. Tim Floyd eventually resigned as head coach in 2002, and Krause brought back Bill Cartwright to head the team.
Finally, in April of 2003, Krause resigned from his position as general manager citing health reasons. It was the opinion of many that Jerry Reinsdorf, sick of failure on the court and lagging attendance, had fired him.