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Friday, March 24, 2017

Jerry Krause Built (and broke up) the Bulls' Dynasty

"Few GMs have enjoyed the success that Jerry Krause did. 6 rings says it all. To me, his track record is absolutely Hoophall worthy."--Scottie Pippen, after learning of Jerry Krause's death

"He's been around a long time and won championships. They had a dynasty, now they have a coffee shop."--Charles Oakley, speaking of Krause in 2002, when the post-dynasty Chicago Bulls went a league-worst 21-61

Two quotes by two players who knew firsthand what it felt like to be signed--and shipped off--by Jerry Krause serve as fitting epigraphs for Krause's life and career. Krause, who passed away at the age of 77 on Tuesday, deserves more credit than he often receives for building the Chicago Bulls' 1990s dynasty; he assembled all of the pieces around Michael Jordan for the first three-peat (including a marvelous coaching staff) and then when Jordan came back from his baseball hiatus Krause built an entirely new supporting cast (other than Pippen) for the second three-peat.

Sadly, Krause also deserves the blame (along with owner Jerry Reinsdorf) for breaking up the Bulls' dynasty. I have heard of coaches being told "Win (x amount of games) this year or you are fired" but, until Krause, I had never heard of an executive telling his coach that even if the team went 82-0 and won the championship he was gone--but that is exactly the message that Krause delivered to Phil Jackson prior to the Bulls' "Last Dance" championship in 1998.

Krause relished the challenge of proving that he could win without Jordan but that was foolish pride; the Bulls deserved the opportunity to, as the saying goes, come back "with their shields or on them" in 1999, as opposed to Jordan, Pippen and Jackson being exiled from the city that they had placed on the basketball map. Jackson would go on to win five more championships as a coach, Jordan came out of retirement to be an All-Star during the season that he turned 40 and Pippen recovered sufficiently from back surgery to be a key member of a Portland team that came within one bad fourth quarter in game seven of the 2000 Western Conference Finals of perhaps derailing Jackson's budding Lakers' dynasty before the Lakers won three titles in a row.

Championships are a precious commodity in sports and the idea that it is better to break up a championship caliber team one year too early as opposed to one year too late is foolish. It has been said that the Celtics suffered because they held on to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for too long but that assertion ignores the tragic reality that the Celtics' future leaders--Len Bias and Reggie Lewis--died in or before their primes. If those two players had lived, then perhaps the Celtics would have been the Spurs before the Spurs, with one championship generation passing the torch to the next.

The Philadelphia 76ers recently tanked for years and still have little to show for it, even with Bryan Colangelo now at the helm to restore sanity to the decision making process.

There are many other examples but the point is that instead of trying to prove that he was THE reason for the Bulls' championships, Krause should have partnered with Jackson and the rest to keep the band together as long as possible. It is hard to build a championship team from scratch (as Jackson and Jordan have discovered now that they are team executives) and Krause should have put off trying to do so as long as possible.

Krause had a different vision, though. He often said that his most gratifying and enjoyable season was not one of the six championship campaigns but rather 1993-94, when Jordan retired for the first time and--according to Krause--the Bulls ran the Triangle Offense better than they ever did or ever would. I agree that the 1993-94 season was special and that the Bulls--led by the underrated Pippen, who helped Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong blossom into All-Stars--ran the Triangle very efficiently but without Jordan they lacked that nuclear weapon in the fourth quarter, that guy who could score 15 or 20 points in 12 minutes no matter what the opposing defense did. Pippen, for all of the wonderful things he did, was just not that kind of player, by temperament or skill set.

Fast forward to 1999; instead of Krause relishing the opportunity to recreate the "glory" of 1993-94, he should have done everything possible to keep the team together.

My memories of my early adulthood will always be inextricably linked to the joys and thrills of watching the Jordan-Pippen Bulls. Jordan is a wondrous player, as everyone knows. Pippen is an acquired taste for some but he is my second favorite player of all-time behind the incomparable Julius Erving. I think that Jordan-Pippen is the best duo in pro basketball history; their skill sets meshed perfectly at both ends of the court, they never feuded over who is "The Man" and they brought out the best in each other both individually and collectively. Watching them play basketball together was like watching poetry in motion.

In 1998, I was furious at Krause for destroying something so beautifully artistic and so competitively fierce.

Nearly 20 years later, I am still puzzled and saddened by what Krause did but I also appreciate what he accomplished--not just with the Bulls but over the span of his life. Those who knew him well say that he was a loyal friend with a good heart. Ultimately, that is how he should be remembered--and, despite his gruff demeanor at times and despite his mistake in breaking up the Bulls, there is no doubt that Krause belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame. It is a shame that if he ever is inducted he will not be around to enjoy that most deserved honor.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:22 AM

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At Friday, March 24, 2017 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Was hoping you'd write up about Krause. Despite his bizarre personal temperament and penchant for causing organizational feuds, as you noted he seemed to be an excellent talent evaluator, for both prospective players and staff. The Last Dance fiasco is unforgivable egotism on his part though.

Thing is in my opinion, nearly 20 years down the line, the Bulls organization doesn't seem to have changed all that much. They're still prematurely firing excellent coaches like Thibs and there's still that tendency for constant front office drama, so I'm inclined to think that's a feature of Reinsdorf's ownership that the Jordan-Pippen Bulls won in spite of. He's better than James Dolan obviously I guess.

 

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