Jerry Krause will never be remembered as a likable guy in Chicago, but the sports landscape of this time wouldn’t be the same without him.
Krause, 77, passed away today as certainly one of the greatest general managers in Chicago sports, leaving behind his legacy of six championships with the Chicago Bulls.
The man called “The Sleuth” for his secrecy on the job was never portrayed as a particularly endearing figure among the architects of the Bulls’ two “three-peats” and multiple other championship runs.
Notably, he drew the ire of many, including Michael Jordan, when he said “players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations win championships,” as it was viewed, out of context, as a self-serving inflation of his own worth.
Just take a look at today’s Bulls, and tell me there’s no truth in his words.
After all, though their relationship would later become strained, Krause brought in Phil Jackson, who would become likely the greatest head coach in professional basketball history, to replace Doug Collins. He would go on to win six championships with the Bulls before earning five with Los Angeles.
While he didn’t draft Jordan, Krause was responsible for putting together the cast that helped Jordan win his first three championships after laboring in vain largely on his own: drafting John Paxson and Horace Grant, trading for Bill Cartwright—a move Jordan supposedly opposed—and pulled off the draft trade that brought the second-greatest player in Bulls history, Scottie Pippen, into the fold.
Then, when Jordan returned after his year-and-a-half-long retirement, Krause brought in former Bulls nemesis Dennis Rodman as a free agent, and he blossomed into a Hall-of-Fame player alongside Jordan and Pippen as they won three more championships together.
And let’s not forget that when Jordan was on sabbatical in 1994, the Bulls still made the playoffs without him, though they didn’t reach the NBA Finals for a fourth straight time. I’m sure the Cleveland Cavaliers wish they could’ve had that kind of success when LeBron James left town…
Krause didn’t just ride Jordan’s coattails to championships. Quite the contrary: he built championship contenders around him, without which he may never have achieved the legendary status he gained from his six championship wins in six tries.
He may never be remembered fondly here in Chicago, but his genius for putting together great teams should never be underestimated.
The Bulls franchise certainly wouldn’t be the same without him.