Krause’s sudden resignation raises questions

By Jesson Yeh

Two weeks ago, Jerry Krause, the man whom many Chicagoans have either loved or hated, resigned from his position as executive vice president of basketball operations for the Chicago Bulls, citing personal and health reasons.

Make no mistake about it: the resignation and the reasons behind it were an attempt to save face all around that was orchestrated by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

For a long time, the Bulls have been stuck in the cellar of the Central Division. They have gone 30-52 this season and 95-282 overall since the Jordan dynasty disbanded after the 1998 championship. The move by Reinsdorf to oust Krause was long overdue. Many felt that the post-Jordan era had been scarred by Krause’s indecision and ill-advised trades that set the Bulls back year after year.

For 18 years, Krause had been a fixture of the Bulls’ organization, both building and propelling a dynasty that would be synonymous with pure domination and excellence.

Krause became the Bulls’ general manager (GM) in 1985 after working for Reinsdorf as a scout with the Chicago White Sox. Never a player himself, Krause had built a reputation in the NBA as a talented scout for the Baltimore Bullets in the late 1960s.

When Krause arrived on the scene, Michael Jordan was the only piece present of what would become the foundation of the Bulls’ dynasty. Two years later, Krause began building around Jordan with key players that helped turn the Bulls into champions. The 1987 draft brought Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, a little-known small forward from a small Arkansas college. Later, Krause spent years pursuing Toni Kukoc, years before many other GMs realized the significant contribution and potential that European players could make

Yet Krause made his most brilliant move in 1987 when he played a key role in hiring Phil Jackson as a Bulls assistant, despite skepticism from management about his hippie image, long beard, and outlandish clothing.

Sadly, even as GM of the team that won six NBA championships in eight seasons, Krause was booed by thousands of fans at every victory parade. What gives?

His fatal flaw was his need to be credited for the Bulls success. This would been all right in the regular world, but in a league where Jerry West, a man renowned for his modesty, was the icon everyone looked up to, Krause was seen as outrageous and arrogant.

His wooden and unfriendly persona contributed to his negative image among fans and players alike. Krause was perceived as taking himself too seriously. As one GM said, “Krausie goes into the closet just to change his mind.” He was also paranoid, so much so that when rookies like DeSanga Diop came into Chicago, he’d make them register at hotels under assumed names and sneak them in for workouts after midnight, using walkie-talkies with team staff to make sure parking lots were clear before he’d arrive.

Krause rarely smiled or made eye contact and rarely greeted employees, walking by with a sharp huffiness or just a shrug. Krause wasn’t necessarily being rude. He simply didn’t know how to make small talk. It made him uncomfortable, so he ignored people.

With every brilliant and shrewd move he made during the Bulls’ two runs in the ’90s, Krause made two equally disastrous mistakes. When Jackson asked for a contract extension, Krause made it crystal clear he was ready to hire his fishing buddy, Iowa State coach Tim Floyd. Jordan and Pippen said they wanted out if Jackson was leaving. The two Jerrys then systematically destroyed the Bulls in a matter of years, going from a championship title to 49-190 in three-and-a-half seasons under Tim Floyd, who was fired in December and replaced by Bill Cartwright.

Post 1998, every bad move Krause made could be summed up in his famous quote: “Organizations, not players, win championships.”

When he was forced to step down two weeks ago, media moguls and hoops gurus pitied him. Here was a man who had been so instrumental in shaping the Bulls’ dynasty, yet was so unnecessarily vilified and characterized as a monster. Dick Vitale and Sam Smith from The Chicago Tribune defended Krause as misrepresented and misunderstood by the media and the players. The city of Chicago never grew to love him because they never fully understood him as a person.

As some sort of odd caricature, Krause had the chubby body and standoffish attitude, but he was also hard working and loyal. He traded for Cartwright and later hired him as an assistant and eventually a head coach. Following Cartwright’s final season accident, in which he took an elbow to his throat that crushed his larynx, Krause helped find a capable surgeon to repair the damage. Following five more operations, Cartwright has been able to regain his voice and speak clearly.

Players like Jamal Crawford, one of Krause’s favorites, recounted stories where Jerry and he would talk for hours about how his family was and life outside of basketball. Crawford thanked Krause for sticking by him when rumors came out that he was about to be traded.

With the surprising resignation announcement, another part of the storied Bulls’ legacy comes to a fitting end. As much as Jordan detested Krause, the two worked hand in hand to create one of the most formidable and successful franchises in sports history.