Jerry Krause Talks Michael Jordan, End of Bulls' Dynasty in Unpublished MemoirMay 18, 2020
Jerry Krause, the former general manager of the Chicago Bulls who helped build the 1990s dynasty but also served as the foil to Michael Jordan's greatness for much of The Last Dance, died in 2017 and was not able to provide his side of the story during times in the documentary.
However, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago shared an excerpt from Krause's unfinished and unpublished memoir addressing the decision to move on from the championship core following the 1998 NBA Finals win over the Utah Jazz.
"'There's Jerry Krause, the guy who broke up the championship dynasty.'
'There's Jerry Krause, the guy with the huge ego who wanted to build a championship team without Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson, the guy who thought he was more important than the players and coaches.'
If I've heard or seen those quotes a thousand times in different publications and venues throughout America, you can be sure there were thousands of them said to which I wasn't privy.
Up until now, as you read this, nobody outside of Jerry Reinsdorf, myself and a few select people in the Bulls organization really knows what happened in the aftermath of winning our sixth world championship in eight years.
Did we break up the winning team so that we could satisfy our own egos and win without those players and coaches? Do you really think that people who worked for so many years to win and then win again and again would be dumb enough to let egos get in the way of trying to win again?
Do you think that an organization built with one single purpose, from its chairman on down through the lowest-ranking member of the front office—to win championships—would easily give up that thought?"
Krause goes into details about how Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley were starting to break down physically following a three-peat and the additional games and stress that continuous deep playoff runs put on them. He also noted winning those championships meant the Bulls were often picking at the end of the draft and unable to replenish for the future.
What's more, the team didn't have the cap space to address the holes created by Rodman and Longley's physical concerns, and Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler were free agents expected to get bigger deals elsewhere.
Even Scottie Pippen was a question mark according to Krause because he had two surgeries the previous two years and wanted a significant contract after playing well below his market value for so long.
Head coach Phil Jackson also didn't want to coach during a rebuilding project, and Jordan—who would have missed time the next season after he sliced a finger on a cigar cutter—said he wouldn't play for another coach.
"Can Michael continue his greatness without a center, power forward and possibly Pippen?" Krause wrote. "Could Bill Russell, the greatest team player ever, have won without great players around him? No. Michael has said publicly that he will not play for a coach other than Phil. Phil has told us he's gone. What does Michael do?"
Jackson eventually ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won five more titles, while Jordan retired for three years before suiting up for the Washington Wizards for two more seasons.
Chicago sent Pippen to the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade that let him make $20 more million than if he had just signed a new contract. Krause called that the front office's "going-away present" for the Hall of Famer.
Krause's memoir at least provides the rationale from his point of view for not bringing back the core of the 1997-98 team. It also stands in stark contrast to the way he was painted for much of the documentary as someone who stubbornly refused to bring Jackson back even if the coach went 82-0 and wanted to receive the credit Jordan was getting as the star player.
"It's maddening because I felt like we could have won seven," Jordan said in the final episode of The Last Dance on Sunday when asked if he was happy to retire in 1998 at his peak. "I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just not to be able to try, that's something I just can't accept, for whatever reason. I just can't accept it."
He also said he and the other members of the team would have been willing to sign one-year deals to chase a seventh ring, but the health problems Krause raised may have stood in the way even in that scenario.