“Organizations win Championships”. In my 30+ years of following Chicago sports, there’s never been a more ridiculed, yet completely true, statement ever uttered by someone on the payroll of any one of the cities’ five professional teams. Of course, any lifelong Chicago fan knows that those infamous words were uttered by Bulls General Manager during the bitter power struggle between the front office on one side and head coach Phil Jackson along with the players on the other. This power struggle provided a back drop during the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s and would ultimately prove to be their undoing. Say what you want about the break-up of the Bulls, and how Krause along with his handpicked coach Tim “Pink” Floyd drove the Bulls franchise to the Dark Side of the Moon for the better part of a decade; but it’s time to pay respect to Krause while giving him his proper due for the Bulls dynasty.
I write this now because Krause will be one of a very few not to attend the Bulls 20th anniversary celebration of their first title this weekend. The official word is that “he’s busy scouting baseball”. The unofficial word is that the man derided as “Crumbs” by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen is not welcome. It’s sad in so many ways, but not the least of which, is because Krause was the architect of the greatest dynasty in American sports in the last 40 years. The reality is that the Bulls never would have become a contender and then a champion without the successful people Krause put around Jordan – who won a total of one playoff game in his first three seasons.
But after that third season, Krause pulled off one of the most defining if not greatest drafts in NBA history. With two picks in the top ten, he traded up (from the eighth to fifth pick) for an unknown player named Scottie Pippen. Pippen was a true American fairy tale. He “walked on” as a non-scholarship player to a small school where he literally worked as a locker room towel boy his freshman year. But he grew six inches before his sophomore year and started developing as a basketball player. Pippen was soon after discovered by Krause, who drafted him and then selected Horace Grant at number ten. And with that draft, the nucleus for an NBA dynasty was born.
After the 1989 season, the Bulls’ front office made an unpopular move with the fans as well as the media, but a move eventually and overwhelmingly proved correct. Doug Collins was the popular head coach and, in his three years, the Bulls improved each season, culminating with the ’89 playoff run. But in June, the Bulls shockingly fired Collins and replaced him with an unknown assistant – Phil Jackson. Krause (who hired Jackson as an NBA assistant when no opportunities existed for him in the league) took a tremendous amount of heat as did owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Jackson, though, through a blend of coaching and personal philosophies, proved to be a steady hand in guiding the Bulls to six NBA titles in eight years.
It also goes unstated as well – but lesser moves such as trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright (also a highly unpopular move initially), drafting an unknown European named Toni Kukoc in 1990 and later trading an underachieving Stacey King for Luc Longley all set the stage for the Running of the Bulls. As much as I loved Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech, I cringed and felt sorrow inside for the way he continues to treat Krause all these years later. I often thought most, if not all, of the criticism surrounding Krause had to do with his less than Hollywood-like physical appearance. I often wonder if he had the look of a GM like Kenny Williams or Theo Epstein if he would’ve taken the same amount of ridicule. Regardless, I hope somewhere during the celebration this weekend the fans, media and most importantly the players have some private conversations about the contributions a man known in his better days as ‘The Sleuth’ had on his club.