Remembering Jerry Krause, the architect of the Bulls’ dynasty.
The dynastic 1990s Chicago Bulls, the team that set the standard of excellence in the NBA for all to follow, were full of larger-than-life characters.
There was Michael Jordan, roundly hailed as the greatest the game has ever seen — with a personality worthy of the stage the player commanded. Phil Jackson, the Zen Master, with his quirky sensibilities and his triangle offense who is now considered as arguably the greatest coach the sport has ever seen. Scottie Pippen, an unrivaled defensive weapon on the perimeter. For a stretch, so was Dennis Rodman, whose outsize personality off the court matched his relentless defense and rebounding on the floor.
All of those names, plus plenty of others — Steve Kerr, John Paxson, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong, Luc Longley, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and more — stood out at one time or another as the Bulls won six championships on one of the great runs in NBA history. All of those men, however, didn’t arrive in Chicago by mistake. They all went there because of the vision of one man: general manager Jerry Krause.
Krause died Tuesday at age 77, leaving behind 50 years of work as a talent evaluator in both baseball and basketball. It was a remarkable run of success, one that led to him drafting Earl Monroe, Jerry Sloan and Wes Unseld with the Baltimore Bullets to making several other stops in both baseball and basketball as a scout.
But it was in 1985, when Krause took over from Rod Thorn as general manager of the Chicago Bulls, when his legacy began to be built. That was accomplished in the only way he ever thought the job should be done: by scouting, scouting some more, and some more after that.
“When you do something all your life, you have a zest for it,” Krause said on a podcast with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this year. “With me, scouting is a zest. Scouting is fun for me. I enjoy it. “It was something I was born, I think, to do.” The results speak for themselves. Krause hired Jackson — with whom he began a relationship 20 years prior when Jackson was playing at North Dakota — out of the Continental Basketball Association as an assistant under Doug Collins. He snapped up Pippen and Horace Grant in the 1987 NBA draft, forming the first Chicago Big Three with Jordan that would lead the Bulls to their first trio of championships starting in 1991.
Krause swapped Charles Oakley for Cartwright, a move that enraged Jordan, but wound up as the missing piece. Later, as the Bulls geared up for a second three-peat when Jordan returned from a year-and-a-half baseball sojourn, Krause found pieces like Kukoc, Harper, Longley and Kerr — not to mention landing Rodman in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs — surrounding Jordan with the weapons to chase history once again.
“The news of Jerry Krause’s death is a sad day for the Chicago Bulls and the entire NBA community,” Jackson, now president of the New York Knicks, said in a statement Tuesday. “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 he built the dynasty in Chicago. We, who were part of his vision in that run, remember him today.”
That’s not to say Krause was easy to work with. His penchant for secrecy, which Jackson referenced in his statement, rankled some. He famously had falling outs with both Jordan, who gave him the nickname “Crumbs” because he was overweight and didn’t dress for the part of being a general manager, and then, over time, with Jackson. He was an admittedly stubborn person.
But he also had a remarkable eye for talent, for going out and finding players in places others didn’t think to look. He found Pippen at Central Arkansas, Kukoc in Europe, Kerr on the waiver wire.
For all of Jordan’s immense talent, it’s impossible to win in the NBA by yourself. If not for Krause and his vision to bring all of these disparate characters together, the Bulls dynasty could never have existed.
That’s why it’s such an enormous shame, and a true disgrace, that Krause still remains outside of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is up for induction as a contributor, and should unquestionably be elected, which should’ve happened years ago. But Krause publicly voiced his displeasure over former Bulls assistant and triangle architect Tex Winter being passed over, and removed himself from the induction committee in the early 2000s. He’s now been forced to wait longer to be enshrined forever among the game’s greats.
Those great Bulls teams were led by even greater characters, names and faces and personalities that will echo through the ages. They all came together because of a man behind the scenes, one who was always happiest when he was out scouting, looking for the next piece, the next talent to add.
Jerry Krause was a scout at heart, one with an exceptional eye for talent. The collection of it he brought together in Chicago changed the course of basketball history.
Jerry Krause, left, surrounded Michael Jordan with the right talent to unleash the Bulls’ dynasty.