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Battles with Jordan, Pippen put Krause in tough spot

by Sam Smith

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week probably will announce that former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause will be enshrined later this year. Perhaps it will wait another year.

But Krause will be elected to join for his large contribution to the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls, assembling the team around Michael Jordan to win six championships in eight seasons.

It’s unfortunate Jerry won’t be there to hear about his final acclaim.

Krause died at 77 last week after a long illness.

He was one of the more enigmatic and ambivalent figures in a sport that seems to mint them.

Krause should have been carried on a litter like ancient kings for being the general manager and architect of those Bulls titles. And he hardly was ignored or not celebrated. Krause was twice named NBA Executive of the Year and he was the only executive to have a banner with his name raised in his arena, as the Bulls have done in the United Center.

So to suggest, as some have, that Krause was denied respect isn’t quite right. Also, the Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t have a big tradition of inducting men and women who were just general managers. It’s expanded its entry list in recent years. But for decades, it was limited to categories of player, coach or contributor, the latter a catchall that has included agents, owners and even Harlem Globetrotters.

Plus, Krause spent half his working career out of basketball as primarily a baseball scout. In fact, when he was tapped to be the Bulls general manager in 1985, he was working as a scout for almost all the previous decade for the Chicago White Sox. It was the purchase of the Bulls by White Sox managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf that enabled Krause, by happenstance, to get back into basketball after an ill-fated run with the Bulls in the mid-1970s.

But that Krause was for much of his life until then a baseball scout also explained a lot about how and why he became the tormented figure who actually was booed several times at the team’s championship celebrations.

The life of a scout — and it was no coincidence Krause was known as “the sleuth” for his furtive ways — is one of anonymity, secrecy, discretion.

After all, if your rivals know who you are looking at, they may whisk him away first.

Of course, Krause took it to extremes, a roly-poly, 168-cm, 90-kg and a lot extra who wore an oversized raincoat, often peeking from behind posts in the outer reaches of arenas so as not to give away his location. He counseled his staff scouts never to speak to other scouts or members of other teams for fear of giving away information. He literally had a quote on his wall in his office: “Hear all, See all, Say Nothing.”

He later learned with some embarrassment, since he was Jewish, it was from a Nazi officer. But that wasn’t the point. It was the message.

This was not a public person.

But the job of a general manager requires being the face of the franchise, concocting a plan, which Krause was fine with, but then explaining and selling it to the fans and media with a welcoming smile and countenance.

And a sharp suit.

Krause during his years with the Bulls was on committees for the Hall of Fame to select candidates. When Krause’s favored coach, Tex Winter, wasn’t inducted one year (he later would be), Krause condemned the Hall of Fame in a public display of anger and accusation. Look, people remember those things.

It takes time to smooth out the bumps.

As it has for Krause in Chicago and the NBA.

Krause had this plan, which wasn’t particularly accelerated.

As a scout, he believed most in the draft, so he would build that way. Sure, he inherited Michael Jordan, which was a pretty good start, but also a team that had been a perennial loser with literally a half dozen players headed to drug rehabilitation. So he set out on a path he called addition by subtraction, slowly discarding players for draft picks and future possibilities.

Krause would eventually draft Scottie Pippen through multiple transactions, which started with the trade of center Jawann Oldham for a future draft pick. But Krause also had a fairly demanding guy named Jordan who was both not accustomed to losing, not particularly patient and being compared with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, except they won and Michael just scored points.

So as Krause made moves with a scout’s eye, but also with a scout’s articulation, Jordan’s pleas for players over futures resonated with fans and media. Krause lost the public relations battle, as anyone would to Michael Jordan. Even more so when you were short and squat and with a temper that sometimes saw you lash out in the wrong direction, as Krause did with the Hall of Fame.

So sympathy did not flow Krause’s way. Though if you were the fourth-most beautiful or handsome in your class, there still were three ahead of you getting all the attention.

You’re not going to be the prom queen or king when ahead of you is the guy regarded by many as the greatest player ever, the guy regarded by many as maybe the greatest perimeter defender ever who starred for the Dream Team and the coach regarded by many as the greatest ever as he had the most championships ever. Not yet, but headed that way.

So Krause often stewed in his own bile, demanding respect and admiration, as you often see in successful organizations, so many pushing one another out of the way like a mass stampede for recognition. It’s something that comes to you; you just don’t take it.

Krause even with the success of the Bulls thus became a foil after his contentious first few years with Jordan and then combative salary negotiations with Pippen. Even back to that famous Dream Team, Pippen and Jordan sought to embarrass Krause by making Toni Kukoc look bad.

Acquiring Kukoc with a second-round draft pick was one of the great Krause coups. But he spoke of it so proudly and often, Jordan and Pippen took it as a dismissal of what they had accomplished. Seems petty now. It didn’t then to them. Guess who the public and media sided with.

There’s plenty of psychology in there, too, the little fat kid growing up who yearned to be accepted by the jocks, who always was ignored and an outcast. Now he was the boss of the jocks. They will respect me!

But what we know from history is the daily arguments and rivalries disappear and we are left with the record. Which for Jerry Krause is one of the greatest in NBA history, the overseer of one of the great dynasties in league history.

He’ll be honored soon. Just, unfortunately, a little late for his speech.

Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”