Jerry Krause has never been cuddled. He was not a friend of the media or his competitors. Like Michael Jordan, he was so obsessed with his work that his colleagues couldn’t relate to him. The former Chicago Bulls general manager, who died in 2017 just before his long-awaited Hall of Fame induction, got the nickname “The Sleuth” because no scout was more secret. Another of his nicknames was “Crumbs”, which was derisively attributed to him by Charles Oakley but used so often by Jordan that everyone assumed that Jordan had invented it.
From a 1993 Sports Illustrated profile by Rick Telander:
Legend has it that Jordan hung this nickname on Krause because, supposedly, there are still donut crumbs on Krause’s lapels. “This is from Charles Oakley,” corrects Jordan, referring to the former Chicago striker who is now with the Knicks. They shoot him, crack on him. Not long ago, Krause left his hat on the team bus. When he returned, he found it in the bathroom at the back of the dresser.
Jordan intimidated Krause the way he played: relentlessly and precisely. He was targeting Krause’s weight, roaring like a cow when the executive dared to enter the Chicago locker room. He told his teammates embarrassing stories about Krause. He publicly criticized Krause and tried to get him fired. In “The Last Dance”, the 10-part ESPN / Netflix documentary, Jordan still intimidates him.
Backstage footage reveals that Jordan goads Krause asking if he is taking diet pills. Jordan is also shown sarcastically asking Krause if he’s going to join the Bulls’ layup line, then telling him they should lower the rim. And this is only the first episode.
The most important blow he dealt, however, was not sarcastic comments and nasty nicknames. This is how Jordan positions Krause as the villain in his story, as he did over 20 years ago. In the documentary, Krause presents himself as slippery and cold, a disliked stereotypical eccentricity that simultaneously avoided the spotlight and regretted that the players and the coach had attracted all the attention.
Much of the criticism is fair. His broken relationships with Jordan, Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen made the 1997-1998 season unnecessarily messy. Any honest depiction of the end of the Bulls dynasty must take into account Krause’s “way to alienate people”, as Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf says in the documentary.
But he should also ask other questions. Did Krause protect Reinsdorf from the contempt they should have shared? Yes. Is it fair that Jordan never forgave Krause for trying to get him to sit down at the end of his second season so that his foot injury could heal completely? No. Is Krause the only character whose ego and personal grudges have prevented reconciliation? Absolutely not.
Krause is much more than just a punchline, and more than a good but socially awkward frame who couldn’t get out of his way. He inherited a list described in the document as a “traveling cocaine circus” and described by Krause as “Michael and 11 other guys I didn’t want. Jordan’s six championships may seem inevitable now, but he won none of them until Krause swapped his buddy and fired the coach who set up a million games for him. Replacing Oakley with Bill Cartwright and Doug Collins with Jackson were not initially popular movements with Jordan, but the superstar understood that they were necessary.
There is a long list of unconventional Krause movements that have proven to be brilliant. His picking job, which became Pippen in the 1987 draft, remains one of the best in the history of the league. In 1990, Krause drafted and stashed Toni Kukoc, a 6’11-inch forward from Croatia. The second hat-trick was possible because of Kukoc and because Krause took a chance on Dennis Rodman when Rodman’s career fell apart and caught Steve Kerr and Ron Harper in free agency. It was a remarkably modern team, largely because Krause cared about versatility and length before everyone else.
Krause’s flirting with Tim Floyd while Jackson was chasing titles was ridiculous. He mistreated agents, other general managers and people from his own organization. You probably wouldn’t have liked it. But you might not have liked Jordan personally, either, if you had to work with him. The difference is that “The Last Dance”, like most retrospectives of that time, presents Jordan’s intensity, stubbornness and abrasive leadership style as necessary elements of his greatness. Krause’s paranoia and insecurity rarely receive the same blur treatment.