Jerry Krause, GM of Bulls dynasty, remembered for drive, work ethic, loyalty
Jerry Krause is honored at halftime during the Bulls vs. Atlanta game in 2003.(Heather Stone, Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause in 2012 outside a shop once owned by his parents during his childhood in the Albany Park neighborhood.(E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)
Kathy McDermott recognizes Jerry Krause as he tries to pick out his childhood home on Everell Avenue on June 21, 2012.(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause at his alma mater, Taft High School, in 2012.(E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause, a scouting agent for the Arizona Diamondbacks, center in red hat, watches as the Kane County Cougars play Beloit at the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Ill., on June 27, 2012.(Keri Wiginton / Chicago Tribune)
Baseball scout Jerry Krause chats with
Former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause tools around in an electric boat as he fishes in a lake behind his Highland Park home in 2003.(John Lee, Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause, Chicago Bulls general manager, answers questions for the media at the conclusion of the workout for Chinese basketball player Yao Ming on May 2, 2002.(Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause makes his way from the United Center floor to Bulls locker room on May 6, 1998.(Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause with the Chicago Bulls’ new draft pick Jay Williams as they meet in the hallways of the United Center before the start of the team’s news conference on June 27, 2002.(John Lee/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, right, confers with general manager Jerry Krause during a news conference on July 23, 1998.(Jose More/Chicago Tribune)
Tyson Chandler wrote the initials of former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause on his shoe, in honor of his retirement in 2003.(Charles Cherney / Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause looks over at his No. 1 Bulls pick
Jerry Krause at the press conference announcing Bill Cartwright as the next Bulls head coach on March 11, 2002.(Charles Cherney / Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause reacts at the 1999
Bulls general manager Jerry Krause on Oct. 4, 1999.(Charles Cherney / Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause addresses the media during a press conference on Jan. 11, 1999.(Frank Polich / Associated Press)
Bulls GM Jerry Krause looks at his watch during a press conference with coach
Jerry Krause and
Michael Jordan (right) announces his retirement at the Berto Center in Deerfield on October 6, 1993. Seated from left: Bulls GM Jerry Krause, Bulls coach Phil Jackson, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Jordan. Bulls forward Scottie Pippen is in the rear, wearing sunglasses.(Tribune photo by Chuck Berman)
Jerry Krause, is one happy general manager as he embraces the Bulls’ championship trophy during the rally at Grant Park.(Chicago Tribune)
Jerry Krause share a laugh with
Jerry Krause, the general manager as the Bulls became a global brand with Michael Jordan and a dynamic dynasty that produced six NBA championships in eight seasons, died Tuesday after battling persistent health issues. He was 77.
Krause, who took great pride in his working-class roots in Albany Park on the Northwest Side, retired last spring from Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. That capped a five-decade-plus run as a sports executive that began when he took a $65-per-week job as a glorified gofer for the Cubs in 1961.
Krause always called himself a scout at heart, and his success as a talent evaluator in two sports over such a long career spoke as much to his work ethic as his skill and love for his craft.
“He had a real ability to see how people ticked,” said Bill Cartwright, the starting center on the first three Bulls title teams whom Krause later hired as head coach. “He knew exactly what he was looking for in players and personalities to fit a role on that particular team.
“What kind of person you were, how tough you were, played a lot into what he thought of you. If he believed you were a good person, he had your back. Character really mattered to him.”
Krause, whose status as a finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the contributor category will be revealed next month, gained his greatest fame for engineering the crucial moves to surround Jordan during the Bulls dynasty. Rod Thorn, whom Krause succeeded as GM, drafted Jordan in 1984, the year before new Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf hired Krause on March 26, 1985.
A look back at the life of the former Bulls general manager.
“Jerry was a key figure in the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s and meant so much to the Bulls, the White Sox and the entire city of Chicago,” Jordan said in a statement provided to the Tribune. “My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Thelma, his family and friends.”
Krause hired Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson out of obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association to serve on Doug Collins’ staff. Krause eventually replaced Collins — who took the Bulls to the 1989 Eastern Conference finals after Krause hired him with no coaching experience — with the unconventional Jackson.
“The news of Jerry’s death is a sad day for the Bulls and the entire NBA community,” Jackson said in a statement. “He was a man determined to create a winning team in Chicago — his hometown. Jerry was known as ‘The Sleuth’ for his secrecy, but it was no secret that he built the dynasty in Chicago. We, who were part of his vision in that run, remember him today.”
Krause hired as Jackson’s assistants Hall of Fame coach Tex Winter, whose triangle offense the Bulls employed to success and occasionally basketball poetry, and the late Johnny Bach, who served as the defensive coordinator of the first three-peat.
Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, whom Krause acquired in a 1987 draft-day deal for Olden Polynice, tweeted Tuesday: “Sad news to hear of Jerry Krause’s passing. He helped me realize the dream of playing in the NBA and more than I ever could’ve imagined. ... Jerry and I didn’t always see eye to eye but I knew he just wanted to win. He surrounded MJ and me with the right pieces not once but twice.”
Krause also landed Horace Grant in the 1987 draft, solidifying two starters for the first three-peat. Against Jordan’s wishes, he traded Charles Oakley to the Knicks for Cartwright the following year.
Krause drafted Toni Kukoc, a critical player in the second three-peat, in the second round in 1990 out of Croatia before it was typical to land overseas players. And he signed Ron Harper and traded for Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to secure more cornerstones for the dynasty to continue on the other side of Jordan’s surprising first retirement in 1993.
Krause also hired current GM Gar Forman as a scout.
“He was an inquisitive guy,” Cartwright said. “If he didn’t know something, he would ask. He didn’t presume anything. And if Jerry liked you, he told you. If he didn’t like you, he told you. That’s a really great trait. You knew exactly where you stood.”
Krause alienated some with his secretive ways and occasionally gruff social demeanor. But even Jackson, with whom he later experienced professional discord, acknowledged Krause’s success as a plan to emulate when Jackson became Knicks president in March 2014.
“Jerry used to have a saying, ‘OKP, Our Kind of People.’ If you stuck around, it’s because he thought you were Bulls Kind of People,” said Bulls vice president of operations John Paxson, whom Krause acquired as a player in 1985 and later hired as an assistant coach. “As time went on, a lot of the relationship stuff became difficult. There was a lot of division with the coaching staff and players and management. That can happen a lot. But the difficult part is that it happened when we were winning at such a high level.
“There’s no denying Jerry’s basketball acumen and eye for talent. That speaks for itself given the teams he put together with Michael. That legacy stands forever.”
Jordan never fully forgave Krause and Reinsdorf for having doctors tell him to slow his attempted comeback from a broken foot during his second season in 1985-86. By the end of the dynasty, Krause had been derisively nicknamed “Crumbs,” and the toxic mixture of power, success and ego that fueled the dynasty left emotions raw.
“When those guys would tease Jerry or do things to entertain them that they knew would set him off, I’m not with that. It’s something that should not have happened,” said Cartwright, an assistant coach on those teams. “Jerry is so unappreciated, especially being a Chicago guy. He worked so hard. He worked his way up. People in Chicago embrace those qualities.”
The love Krause had for his hometown was palpable. A graduate of Taft High School and a voracious reader throughout his life, Krause wrote an essay at Bradley University on the lion statues outside the Art Institute, extolling how their strength, toughness and honor were traits he associated with Chicago.
That was back when Krause, who idolized Mike Royko, had designs on being a sports writer. He served as a copy boy at the defunct Chicago Herald-American.
But one summer on the rewrite desk, Krause had a revelation.
“I knew I could only be fair,” Krause told the Tribune in 2012. “And I didn’t want to be fair. I wanted to be great.”
Krause drew great inspiration from his immigrant parents, who ran a delicatessen on Lawrence Avenue and later a shoe store on Northwest Highway.
“They didn’t know anything about either business,” Krause told the Tribune in 2012. “They said, ‘We’ll treat people good, and we’ll be fine.’ I got my work ethic from them.”
Krause took to heart one of his father’s mottos — patience plus perseverance equals success — throughout his career.
That career began when legendary New York Yankees scout Freddy Hasselman asked him to tag along on trips to semipro and high school games throughout the Midwest. Taft baseball coach Jim Smilgoff had introduced Hasselman to Krause.
Immediately, Krause felt he had found his calling and took great relish in being able to scout in two sports. Early in his NBA career with the Baltimore Bullets, Krause is credited with drafting Hall of Famers Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld and Jerry Sloan. While he worked for the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, Alvan Adams, Clifford Ray, Michael Cooper and Norm Nixon landed on his drafting resume.
“If a scout got there late and left early, he hated that,” Cartwright said. “He loved outworking the other guy.”
In a statement, Reinsdorf reiterated how he wouldn’t have entered the Basketball Hall of Fame last year without Krause’s work.
“Jerry was one of the hardest-working guys I have ever been around, and he was one of the best talent evaluators ever,” Reinsdorf said.
When the Bulls dynasty ended, Krause began an ambitious rebuilding plan centered on acquiring teenagers Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. Tim Floyd, his handpicked successor when Jackson called the final title season “The Last Dance” and rode off, failed. Krause later called his hiring of Floyd one of his few regrets.
But he replaced Floyd with Cartwright, and some minor momentum built.
“He changed my life,” said Cartwright, who now works for his alma mater, the University of San Francisco. “First he traded for me. Then he convinced me to get into coaching. I was ready to go into the business world, but he wouldn’t have it.”
Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, whom Krause traded up to snag in the draft as a lottery pick, recalled Krause’s passion for that rebuilding effort fondly.
“He was such a student of the game,” Crawford said. “I remember him teaching me stuff the first time I was in his office as a rookie. He’d also quiz me about who guys were in pictures on the wall of his office because he respected the game’s history.”
Crawford is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, achieving his success after his Bulls stint.
“He really, really believed in me,” Crawford said. “He always told me I had so much talent and I just had to harness it. He always talked about how he was going to turn it around. I admired his courage and vision and work.”
Instead, under the guise of health concerns, Reinsdorf replaced his close friend after 18 years with Paxson in April 2003. Despite being distraught over losing the job he loved, Krause invited Paxson to his north suburban home for a long talk to offer advice and experience.
“That was so gracious of him,” Paxson said. “We talked about agents and philosophies. He didn’t have to do that.”
Twice, Krause earned recognition from his peers as the NBA’s Executive of the Year. The Bulls raised a banner to the United Center rafters on Oct. 31, 2003, to honor his contributions.
The Bulls will add a patch to their uniforms, perhaps as soon as Wednesday’s game, to recognize Krause. The Toronto Raptors held a moment of silence for Krause before tipoff of Tuesday night’s game against the Bulls.
“That dude was a loyal guy,” Cartwright said. “He was definitely loyal to Jerry Reinsdorf, whom he loved dearly. And he was loyal to his friends.
“When he was excited about somebody, he’d always say, ‘Oh, that kid is special.’ To me, that word always reminds me of Jerry because he was such a special guy. There’s nobody like him. Nobody had the perspective that he did. He had so much love for doing his job and doing it well.”
Krause — whose recent health issues included osteomyelitis, a bone infection — is survived by his wife, Thelma; children Stacy and David; and grandchildren Colette, Josh, Mia and Riley. A memorial service is planned for April 9; details are pending.
“There were many who said a little guy from Albany Park couldn’t,” Krause said in an interview with the Tribune last year. “But I did.”
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams on Jerry Krause. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)
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