Big Nuts

Big Nuts


Big Nuts

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Jerry Krause - Icon Sports MediaIt’s been 10 years since Jerry Krause, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan parted company in a hail of spite and anger after winning six championships together with the Chicago Bulls.

It’s unlikely that the three ever posed together for a photograph, even in their sunnier days, but if they had Krause would have been the short dumpy guy looking entirely out of place.

The caption for that photo might have noted that Jordan was the one with the fierce presence and incredible talent and Jackson was the one with the cunning.

And Krause?

Well, he was the one with big enough balls to stand up to both of them.

It’s unlikely that Krause will ever join the other two in the Hall of Fame, but if he does, the display might well be a huge set of cojones.

Jordan, you may recall, was the most intimidating presence in the history of the game, on and off the court. That was his gift and his curse, all rolled into one. It was his gift because he rode that Alpha Male nature to the heights of the sport, scaring everybody in his path along the way. The curse was that his talent transformed those around him into fawning groupies and sycophants. Everywhere Jordan turned, he encountered people eager to tell him what he wanted to hear.

Even Jackson, hugely intimidating in his own right, chose his words carefully and stepped softly around His Airness.

Krause, on the other hand, charged right in like the bull that he was, cocksure in his own view of things.

Krause was the one who just knew the Cinderella Bulls had to have Bill Cartwright to upgrade their center play with smarts and toughness. So he traded away Charles Oakley, Jordan’s dear friend and partner in crime, to get Cartwright. It was just one of several Krause acts that Jordan never forgave.

“We didn’t win until we got Bill Cartwright,” Krause told me in a long conversation a few months back. “People today don’t realize how good Bill Cartwright was.”

Cartwright was the key to the Bulls’ first three championships from 1991-93, Krause said.

“Then the second group of three (1996-98) started when we got Dennis (Rodman). Without Dennis, we wouldn’t have done that.”

Jordan signed off on the Rodman acquisition, but there were plenty of other times Krause didn’t hesitate to run afoul of the team’s star.

Jordan lobbied hard for the drafting of Joe Wolf, a University of North Carolina star. Krause ignored him and drafted Horace Grant, another key in Chicago’s long, strange run of success.

Since the glory of his playing days ended, Jordan has struggled to find success and happiness in the game he virtually owned as a Bull.

Jordan has never phoned Krause, although he did contact him through an intermediary for the pivotal 2001 NBA draft. Jordan was an owner/executive for the Washington Wizards, and Krause was still working for the Bulls. They were both trying to sort out which big men to take among Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry. Jordan made Brown his infamous selection, while Krause scooped up Chandler and Curry for Chicago.

“Michael didn’t try to pick my brain,” Krause said. “Michael didn’t have any respect for anybody’s brain. He did have Rod Higgins do a lot of his talking.”

Since his Bulls tenure ended a few years back, Krause has returned to his original love, scouting baseball.

Although Jordan is in charge of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats these days and he could probably use Krause’s counsel on personnel issues, it’s not likely that the two will ever mend their differences.

And Krause scoffed when asked if he and Jackson would be getting together any time soon for a reunion of those great Bulls teams.

“I haven’t spoken to Phil since the last day he was with us in 1998,” Krause said.

Like Jordan, it would probably behoove Jackson to slice off a huge piece of humble pie and give Krause a call. After all, Jackson is in Los Angeles trying to duplicate the incredible feat they all accomplished together in Chicago – to build a championship team around a 2 guard.

Krause is quite a student of the game and he loves to point out that Chicago holds a distinction among all the great basketball teams.

“We were the only ones to build a championship team around a 2 guard,” he offered, adding that even attempting such a thing is almost silly. “That’s what I’m proudest of. It’s the hardest thing to do, really, really hard to do.”


Their differences are enough to make you wonder how Krause and Jackson ever came to work together, but that in itself is the bittersweet heart of this story.

If Krause ever writes an autobiography, he plans to call it “One Million National Anthems.” That’s because he’s knocked around the games of baseball and basketball for years as a scout, taking bad flights, eating bad food, hanging out at practice, always looking for the hidden truth.

Even before that, when he was a student assistant charting plays at Bradley University, Krause caught his first glimpse of Tex Winter, then the coach at Kansas State. Krause was intrigued by the triangle offense and Winter’s intelligence and integrity.

“I liked what Tex did. I thought, ‘Boy, if he ever got good players that offense would be something.’”

Winter moved around in his coaching career as Krause moved into the netherworld of scouting, all the while keeping an eye on Winter and his teams. When Winter took the job at Northwestern, “we became better friends,” Krause said.

Winter recalls that he spent a lot of time with a projector, going over film, showing Krause a lot about the triangle.

“I wanted to learn about it,” Krause said. He also had hopes of becoming an NBA general manager someday and he offered promises that as soon as he did, he would hire Winter.

“I want you with me,” Krause told Winter. “I want you to teach the big people and to coach the coaches.”

“I always said, ‘I’m gonna hire him as an assistant coach, and I’m not gonna worry who the head coach is going to be,” Krause recalled.

In 1985, Krause’s labor came to fruition. He was hired as GM of the Bulls as Jordan was entering his second season. Sure enough, one of the first calls he made was to Winter.

First, Krause hired Stan Albeck as head coach. But Albeck didn’t want to listen to Winter and didn’t want to use the offense.

Krause also wanted him to hire a goofy young assistant named Phil Jackson. Krause had discovered Jackson, a lanky big guy at the University of North Dakota, while scouting small college ball. Krause had quickly come to believe that Jackson had a bright future. But Albeck absolutely refused to hire Jackson, who was viewed as something of an oddball back in the 1980s.

Krause fired Albeck and promoted a bright young coach, Doug Collins.

Krause wanted Collins to hire Jackson, but the new coach was reluctant.

“I went around some things with Doug, but I finally got Phil on his staff,” Krause said.

Once there, Jackson soon began working with Winter and learning from him. But like Albeck, Collins didn’t want to listen to Winter. He even barred Winter from Bulls practices at one point.

Finally, Krause grew fed up, fired Collins and hired Jackson as his head coach.

At last, Krause had the two people he had dreamed of putting in charge. It was the beginning of a coaching partnership that would win nine NBA titles.

“Phil was the first person to understand how good Tex was,” Krause said. “I give Phil a lot of credit. Phil is the best brain picker I have ever known. Phil has picked Tex’s mind for years. I’m a great brain picker myself. I’ve picked Tex’s mind for years. But Phil is by far the best I’ve ever seen because he took a genius and picked his brain. I hired Phil because he was a brilliant defensive coach. When Phil said he wanted to use Tex’s triangle, I said, ‘That’s great.’”

Krause doesn’t take credit for it, but the two would become the core of a great coaching staff, that included Johnny Bach, Jimmy Rodgers, Frank Hamblen and Jimmy Cleamons.

“I do believe the coaching staff we had in Chicago is the best staff in the history of the game,” Krause said. “They were a tremendous complement to Phil.”

For several years, Jackson and his staff proved the perfect match for Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the assemblage of talent. However, Krause’s strong personality wore on Jackson season after season.

Winter grew to become a moderating factor between the two. He said Jackson spent several years bending over backward to please Krause, but by late 1995, Jackson had grown weary of the process and began to rebel.

That rebellion grew into open warfare by 1996. Some accuse Jackson of using Jordan’s and Pippen’s dislike of Krause to motivate the team and drive the Bulls along a bitter road to their last three championships.

Krause soon found himself caught up in the web of Jackson’s mind games and the coach’s ability to use the media to achieve his goals.

“He’s always operated that way,” Krause said of Jackson. “Believe me, he’s stirred the pot with me a number of times. That’s the way he does things. I know the act, believe me.”

Observers watched Krause’s own hubris feed into the end game in Chicago. The team and coaching staff broke apart after the sixth title in 1998. Krause’s vision of Jackson and Winter had been special, then it turned into his nightmare.

Jackson “rode off into the sunset” was how the media termed the parting. Krause says he was disappointed in 1999 when Winter told him he was leaving the Bulls to accept a job working with Jackson and the Lakers.

“I wasn’t happy about it when he left,” Krause said of Winter, one of the elite few whom Krause calls ‘Coach.’ “I told him that. But Coach is still Coach with me. I don’t call many people coach. You gotta earn that with me.”

Now in his late 60s and still living in the Chicago area, Krause offers a matter-of-fact view of the experience and shows some callouses.

“I’ve got tapes of every game that was played in that era,” he says. “I’ve never looked at ‘em.”

Jackson was voted into the Hall of Fame last year, which served to remind Krause of his frustration at not getting the Hall to recognize Winter as an all-time great coach.

Winter is one of the game’s ultimate “geniuses,” he says.

Krause himself was on the selection committee for the Hall several years ago and resigned in protest over the issue.

“I did everything I could do,” Krause said, adding that the politics of selection has made Winter’s recognition as one of the game’s all-time great coaches an impossibility. “It ain’t gonna happen.”

He has grown to accept that reality as he has everything else that came to pass. He says he has moved on to his new life in baseball and is enjoying it immensely.

Don’t expect a warm reunion of one of pro basketball’s great teams, he says.

“It’s past history. It’s done. Phil is a great coach. For a long time, he was very easy to work with. Then he was not so easy. That’s life. Things change. Phil is Phil. I’m proud I hired him.”

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