Jerry Krause Rumors
What’s your reaction to Jerry Krause saying you took the Knicks job only for the money? Phil Jackson: “I heard about it but didn’t read the article. But I do know this: If a writer goes searching for something like that from somebody like Jerry, he knows what he’ll get. I’ve always tried to be positive about Jerry, and I really don’t know what his point was. I mean, there were many factors that were much more important to me than money. What appealed to me the most were things like coming back to New York, staying involved with the game, facing a different kind of challenge and working with people I greatly respect.”
Sam: I do have to defend the Bulls on this one as it has become sort of a smear campaign, that big lie thing that if you say a lie often enough people will believe it. The parting with Vinnie went badly and John Paxson did regret the events and apologized. As a result, he hasn’t had much interaction with Thibodeau. But the Bulls often have been more generous to their coaches than I would have been. Doug Collins and Jackson still remain close with Bulls management, Paxson and Collins still emailing almost weekly. Collins received championship jewelry from the team to thank him for his contributions even though he was fired two years before the first title. And despite Jerry Krause’s open courtship of Tim Floyd, Reinsdorf offered Jackson a multiyear deal at the league’s highest salary to begin a post-Jordan rebuilding. Jackson declined as he didn’t want to be involved in rebuilding. Tim Floyd quit and Reinsdorf paid him the full two years left on his contract. Scott Skiles told management he couldn’t coach the players anymore. They let him go, but they cancelled the offset in his contract so he could go to the Bucks and double dip with two salaries instead of the Bulls getting his Bucks salary. And though there was bitterness at Thibodeau’s discharge, no one in 20 years had hired Thibodeau to be head coach until the Bulls did. And then they gave him a generous contract extension and he’ll make $9 million the next two years. It doesn’t exactly suggest a pattern of coaching abuse.
But did Krause think it would be this tough? You know, 10-43 tough with the winning percentage actually expected to plunge over the final 29 games? “I’m not surprised at all,” Krause said by phone Wednesday night. “I knew Phil had a bad ballclub. If [James] Dolan offered him $2 million a year or even $5 million, he wouldn’t have taken it. But $12 million is overwhelming. Phil didn’t take the job because he thought he had a playoff club. He took the job for the money.”
The New York Knicks introduced Phil Jackson as team president Tuesday, and during a wide-ranging news conference, he spoke positively of his relationships with Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and former general manager Jerry Krause. Given the occasionally acrimonious relationship with Krause, particularly as the Bulls’ dynasty neared its end, the words resonated. And they reached Krause in Arizona, where is employed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I appreciate what he said,” Krause told the Tribune by phone. “I appreciate he understands the difficulties of the job.”
As Krause is detailing one friendship, a middle-aged man approaches his breakfast table. He identifies himself as Clark from Chicago. “Mr. Krause,” Clark says, “thanks for all you did. We were spoiled.” The exchange leads into a discussion of the dynasty, and suddenly Krause is repeating the line that so bothered Jordan. “Here’s a ticklish phrase: ‘You’ve won six championships.’ No, the organization won six NBA championships,” Krause says. “I never have considered that I won anything. I say that and get ripped for it, but it’s true. Organizations win championships. Organizations lose championships too. “No player ever won six world championships. He was part of a team. Who put you there? Who helped develop you? Who scouted you? Who coached you? You played all nine positions in baseball? You played all five positions in basketball? Wow, you must be pretty good.”
Happier times followed. Krause’s surprising hire of Doug Collins as coach worked to a point, and then, after a loss to the Pistons in the 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals, came Collins’ equally surprising dismissal — and the ascension of Jackson. “I called Phil, sat him down in the office and said, ‘Here’s what it is. Go get ’em, Big Fella,’ ” Krause says. “Then I told him, ‘Go back to Montana, let the media firestorm die down and this sink in.’ ” What did Krause see in Jackson, whom he had hired as Collins’ assistant out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association? “I saw Bill Fitch,” Krause says. “I saw Red Holzman. I saw a different breed of cat. I saw a drive in him. He tried to get a coaching job in the NBA for four or five years, and everybody turned him down. Everybody thought he was crazy. I was the only one who didn’t think he was too crazy. I thought he was a little goofy. But I also thought he’d be a great defensive coach. “I told Jerry what I saw. He said, ‘OK.’ And the rest is history.”
Krause turned 73 in April. Nine years have passed since the general manager for all six Bulls title teams left the franchise under the softening caveat of health reasons. He has scouted for the Yankees, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks since, running his resume total to eight baseball and four basketball teams. Fifty-one years after leaving Bradley University to take a $65-per-week job as a glorified gofer for the Cubs, Krause’s excitement for scouting remains — on most days — as bright as the yellow polo shirt he is wearing atop blue chinos. “What the hell else would I do?” Krause says. “If I didn’t work, I’d probably go goofy.” Krause has kept a low profile since his successful and polarizing Bulls run ended. He has stayed mostly silent as he gets alternately vilified or praised. But he accepted the Tribune’s request to revisit his Chicago roots, to be watched plying his trade, to tell his story.