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SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name
Jerry Krause: Chicago’s no-bull Bull
Published April 27, 1998
Jerry Krause offers no apologies.
The way he figures it, with five championship rings and two NBA-executive-of –the-year awards, why should he?
"Players get old, the minutes add up," Krause says. "Nobody’s eager [to break up the Bulls’, but eventually it has to be done. It’s natural."
So there you have it.
Krause, the Bulls general manager who helped build the once-sorry Chicago franchise into the Taj Mahal of the NBA, is apparently ready to tear the whole house down. Nothing has been decided – and a sixth championship could delay the inevitable – yet the signs are clear.
Next year’s team has nine free agents. Bulls coach Phil Jackson swears he’s not coming back. Michael Jordan insists he’ll play for nobody but Jackson. Scottie Pippen says he can’t wait to leave. Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper are ancient by NBA standards.
‘Do anything to win’
Why the soap opera? Why drive away the game’s messiah by not bringing back Jackson? Why bust up the NBA’s best, most recognizable brand, especially when the league’s looking to go international?
"The rest of us are saying that we’d do anything to get to a position to win one ring, period, so why the rush to break the Bulls up? Why not milk it?"says Pat Williams, senior executive vice president of the Orlando Magic. "But maybe we are missing the economics of it."
Krause refuses to talk specifically about next year, yet he cites the Lakers’ rebuilding after Magic. He points to Boston after Larry Bird.
"I’ve never seen a single player win a championship," Krause says. "As good as Michael Jordan is, it takes an organization to win."
In Chicago, those words are nothing short of heresy, sacrilege. Pippen rips Krause in the Local media. Jordan scorns him. Fans scream for his head on sports talk radio.
A scout at heart
"He’s scorned by the players, mocked by the press and looked upon with envy by his peers," Williams says. "He’s a character out of Damon Ruyon. He’s from another time and he does things that aren’t taught in the textbooks."
Krause cares little for the emotion of it all. He’s a scout at heart. A shrewd, relentless evaluator of talent. And what he sees is an aging Bulls team with declining skills. What others see is the man responsible for breaking up the NBA’s version of the Beatles.
"The criticism doesn’t bother me anymore," Krause says. "The owner and the general manager are the easiest guys to take shots at, but if I did what the fans want, I’d end up sitting with the fans."
So as the Bulls begin another run at the championship, Krause ponders how to rebuild.
"Building the ballclub is fun," he says. "I’m an organization man and as we rebuild, we’ll have the same scouts, the same people who’ve been working here for years."
What the organization probably won’t have is the game’s greatest player, the fellow who not only has carried the Bulls to five championships, but has helped the team to 530 consecutive home sellouts and made millions of dollars for Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and the league. bulls officials say they are well prepared to carry on with a rebuilt roster. There are more than 20,000 people on the season-ticket waiting list. Deep within the United Center, extra office space is already in place to expand the sales staff to push what is now an instant sell.
Still, at the end of the day it’s the caliber of the players signed by Krause that will determine how many seats have fans in them. the notion of a Jordanless Bulls tea, however, hardly keeps Krause up at night. Neither man much likes the other. The rift began early in Jordan’s career over how the team handled his injured foot.
"Michael and I have never been close," the Bulls organization’s finest hour came not after winning one of the five championships, but after the Bulls lost in the 1994 NBA semifinals the year Jordan retired to play minor league baseball.
The message is obvious. Kraquse believes that he and the rest of the Bulls front office are just as much responsible for the team’s success as Jordan, Pippen or Jackson. It’s that organizational approach that drives a wedge between the 59-year-old Krause and the players.
"Jerry’s not the greatest communicator of all time," says Mark Bartelstein, a Chicago-based agent who represents bulls players Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler. "With Jerry, what you see is what you get. He doesn’t tell people what they want to hear, but he’s won five championships."
That’s five more NBA championships than most people who knew Krause early in his career would ever have dreamed he could have won.
Short and squat, Krause looks more like the general manager of a bowling team than of a NBA franchise. As the son of a shoe storeowner in Chicago, Krause never played basketball. Instead, he was a backup catcher on Bradley University’s baseball team until has limited athletic talent led him to be the team’s student manager.
Though his athletic credentials are limited, Krause spent years beating the bushes as a scout. He would work basketball in the fall and baseball in the spring, spending weeks on the road. He cut his teeth in the mid-1960s with the Baltimore Bullets, then scouted for an arm’s-length list of teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, the Los Angeles Lakers,even the Bulls under then owner Arthur Wirtz.
Build around Jordan
Krause’s big break came in 1978 when White Sox owner Bill Veeck hired him as a full-time scout. then in 1981, Reinsdort bought the Sox and retained Krause. When Reinsdorf bought the Bulls in 1985, he named Krause general manager. With Jordan already the cornerstone of the fledgling franchise, Krause began to build.
"Jerry is a guy who had to scratch and claw for just about every inch," says Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo. "Regardlesss of any criticism, one must acknowledge the fact that in his own fashion he has accomplished a great deal. For him to be in the position where he’s arrived is a great accomplishment."
Krause doesn’t mark time with a calendar, he uses draft picks. Man walked on the moon not in 1969, but in the same year the Bullets drafted Mike Davis out of Virginia Union.
"I didn’t have a hobby until I was 50, when I started fishing," Krause says.
His obsession with secrecy is legendary and sets him apart from his peers.
Some quintessential Krause: At this month’s Desert Classic, the annual NBA showcase for college basketball players about to turn pro, Krause refused to stay in the hotel and schmooze with the other general managers. Instead, he holed up in the hotel reserved for the players to better observe potential draft picks.
The style does little to endear Krause to outsiders.
"Why should I tell anybody my business?" Krause asks. "I do not believe that everyone has a right to know. If I told people what we were doing, I’d never make a trade."