Sleuth's exit a mystery

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In many ways, Jerry Krause is the quintessential Chicago success story.

A Taft High School graduate who possessed just enough athletic ability to be a backup catcher at Bradley University, Krause relentlessly picked the brains of his superiors to learn more about sports, his life's passion.

Scouting and discovering talent made him happiest, and after a long career doing so in both baseball and basketball, he landed his dream job on March 26, 1985, when Jerry Reinsdorf hired him to be the Bulls' general manager.

In this city of big shoulders and hard work, Krause filled the bill.

But for a man who served as the architect for six world championships in a city starved for sports success, Krause still polarized public opinion.

That's why the shocking news of his resignation Monday was met by a gamut of emotions, from players shedding tears to talk-radio callers emitting cheers.

In a statement, Krause, 64, cited health concerns as the official reason for his departure after 18 seasons. But several of those close to him expressed skepticism that he voluntarily would leave a rebuilding effort that appeared to be turning the corner.

Team sources said Krause suffers from no known or disclosed serious illness.

He did battle pneumonia a few years ago, and he complained of back and neck pain from the constant travel through which the former scout still pushed himself. Often, Krause received treatment on the trainer's table, and the arrival of two grandchildren had softened him.

Still, the timing of the move raised eyebrows, especially given Krause's undying passion for his job and his constant claim that youngsters Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford had reinvigorated him. As recently as a preseason interview, he scoffed at the suggestion of retirement.

"The rigors and stress of the job have caused me some minor physical problems," Krause said Monday in a statement. "Those problems can be eliminated if I lessen my load and concentrate on overcoming them. My first obligation is to accomplish that for my wife, children and grandchildren.

"Upon leaving, I'm very confident that we have assembled the key pieces so that the franchise can return to the NBA's elite teams in the very near future. I am not retiring. I'm going to take some time off and spend it with my family before making any decision on my future. I will leave my options open."

One team source said Krause told him he expected to be back in the league within a year. Another said Reinsdorf offered Krause a consultant's job, but that he declined.

Reinsdorf, so closely aligned with Krause during the turbulent breakup of the 1990s dynasty, attended an emotional team meeting Monday in an upstairs office at the Berto Center.

"Jerry Krause is one of a kind," Reinsdorf said in his own statement. "He brought with him a vision of how to build a champion, and he proceeded to create one of the most dominant champions of all time. No basketball fan in America can begin to imagine the world-champion Chicago Bulls without his imprint."

Possible successors to Krause include broadcaster John Paxson, special assistant B.J. Armstrong and former special assistant and current Pacers assistant coach Jim Stack. One possibility has Paxson assuming the role, with Armstrong taking on greater responsibility in personnel decisions.

Another long shot is Memphis coach Hubie Brown, who coached Bill Cartwright in New York. Cartwright's job as Bulls head coach is safe for the immediate future.

Krause walked an unprecedented path by building six championship teams around a shooting guard. Of course, that shooting guard was Michael Jordan, and many likened buidling those teams to putting a frame around the Mona Lisa.

In truth, many of Krause's personnel moves struck gold.

His draft-day maneuvers in 1987 to acquire Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant laid the groundwork for the first three-peat. He traded for Cartwright and Paxson.

He hired eventual head coach Phil Jackson as an assistant coach and, just as important, lured assistant Tex Winter out of retirement.

Come the second three-peat, he took a chance on Dennis Rodman when many other general managers wouldn't.

All of this led to his being named twice as NBA executive of the year, elected by his peers.

"The people of Chicago really should be proud of this guy," Cartwright said Monday. "He worked his way up from being just a guy to having one [great] career. What he has done here, who knows if it's ever going to happen again? His record speaks for itself."

That record also includes blemishes like the hiring of Tim Floyd as coach. And the dismantling of the dynasty got pinned on Krause—most say unfairly—never allowing him to enjoy complete public acceptance.

Agents trade stories of being bullied by Krause in negotiations. Rival general managers tell tales of preposterous proposals in trade talks. His secretive nature earned him the nickname "the Sleuth," further alienating him from some.

But nobody loved his job more than Krause. He always called it a special privilege to work in his hometown and felt a deep responsibility to the fans. He would brag about his ability to name all the hot dog stands on Milwaukee Avenue.

"I went to scout a game with him in Washington recently," assistant coach Pete Myers said. "He was like a little kid. He had such passion for the job."

During a casual moment last week, Krause sat courtside in Philadelphia and frowned at the news that one of his peers, Pete Babcock, had been fired in Atlanta.

Then he pulled out a picture of his grandson, Joshua, sleeping on Krause's chest as he, too, slept in a chair. "See this here?" Krause said, smiling. "That's what it's all about."

It is now.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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