Last Sunday night was as bad of a night as it gets for former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, as ESPN’s new documentary “The Last Dance” spent the first two episodes to lay the groundwork of a house of character narratives that is now a blossoming city of personalities.
Krause has been well drawn as the jealous and egotistical manic behind the destruction of the dynasty, contrasting the views of the beloved Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan to whom it was heavily implied wanted to keep everything together and make a run for a seventh NBA title. We are shown very early on Jordan’s monologue about who it is that gets to decide when a team ends and who doesn’t, which influences viewers for the rest of the series with the intricate 1997-’98 Chicago Bulls.
Jordan was talking at the end of the last season though, and a lot would change throughout the next year that needs to be taken into account when “blaming” someone for the fall of the franchise. When you watch the last title winning season for those Bulls, it is clear that things were already falling apart at the seams, until it finally ripped at seasons end. There was this feeling that this was going to be the end no matter what management said.
Krause’s disagreements with Jackson and their longstanding arguments weren’t the sole reasons, but it was certainly part of it. Krause was a hot-headed and often needy man, who was as manic and paranoid as has been long established.
His spitefulness against the media and distrust of his fellow general managers around the NBA prevented him from making relationships that could have outweighed his reputation, and the loyalty of Jerry Reinsdorf was strong enough for him to feel comfortable in his position no matter what was said about him. To say that it is unfair to tell this tale because the late Krause is not able to defend himself is benign, as his appearances in front of the media were often times as harmful as they were helpful.
Prior to the final season, Krause was clearly ready to dismantle the team instead of letting them become an old and expensive mess that couldn’t compete with the younger athletes. This prompted him to consider trading Scottie Pippen to the Celtics just before the 1997 NBA draft. Reinsdorf put an end to that quickly, and instead opted to re-sign Jackson in July and Jordan in August, beginning the film’s focus.
But we can’t assume facts not in evidence, analyzing what would’ve happened. What if, despite Krause’s cheerful statement that Jackson was finished in Chicago and his public desire to replace him with Tim Floyd, Reinsdorf decided to be loyal to Jackson and fire Krause. Jackson would then become the top basketball executive. What happens in this scenario?
Without mentioning the serious salary cap problems, a 1998-’99 championship run would start with a 35-year-old Jordan on his last legs after yet again playing deep into the season, averaging 40 minutes in 82 regular season games and 43 minutes in 21 more playoff games.
His superstar abilities were already starting to fade from their peak, with his offensive rating (114) and defensive rating (100) at career lows for the 1997-’98 season. Dennis Rodman would turn 37, and only played 35 more NBA games after the Bulls sixth title. Pippen was a shell of his former self after the 1998 championship, as he underwent spinal fusion surgery over that summer and never got close to All-Star status again.
The point is, this was always going to be it for Jordan’s Bulls. Regardless of professionalism, previous accomplishments, competitiveness, desire, loyalty or history. What Jordan and others must understand, is that the only things that can make the decision on when teams and eras end are time and age. It is that more than any personal reasons or palpable atmosphere that surrounded the team which dismantled the glory of the 90’s Bulls.
Jerry Krause was no saint; he might have been all the things that people say about him. But to blame him as the evil schemer who destroyed some guaranteed championship team is to put aside much more inevitable and still-undefeated traits. The legacy of the Chicago Bulls will live forever, and its one that will never be exactly as it seems.