‘Last Dance’ starts by asking who mattered more on the Bulls — His Airness or the Architect?

Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 20 2020 09:35 AM

Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan were at the forefront of the Bulls' 6-title run in the 1990s. Handout

For those who followed Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls' dynastic run in the 1990s, this story isn't new.

Jordan didn’t see eye to eye with Jerry Krause, the Bulls' general manager at the time who famously said, “Organizations win titles, not players,” and thus infamously causing — if not widening — the rift between him and the last guy he wanted to antagonize.

But the “Last Dance,” the Netflix all-access documentary on arguably the greatest team of all time and how it all fell apart, argues there's more to Krause than this popular depiction of him as a scheming, one-dimensional suit.

If conniving meant he put his managerial genius to work to put together the pieces that eventually led to the most legendary, most transcendent, most globally recognized professional team of all time, then what was wrong with that? 

When Krause approached Bulls majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf if he could manage his middling basketball club, Reinsdorf had been told to be wary of Krause, whose personality “alienated” people.

“But I wasn’t hiring somebody to win a personality contest,” Reinsdorf said.

By the end of the first two episodes — which delved heavily (and rightfully) into Jordan’s familiar back story, and slightly but significantly into Krause’s — there was a growing sense that Jordan and Krause were really similar in their insatiable drive to succeed, even though they did it on ever so different terms.

As talk swirled that Scottie Pippen was on the trading block after the 1996-97 season, Krause, sounding Jordanesque, said: “I’m never going to stop being aggressive, and I will never stop trying to do things to make the team better.” 

For a championship-quality run that lasted for a decade, the uneasy partnership between His Airness and the Architect worked beautifully. 

But their personal vision of winning eventually got the better of each man, leading the Bulls to a divergent path to the point that no matter how capable they still were of playing for more titles a breakup was inevitable.

Bulls general manager Jerry Krause (left) and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf celebrate winning the NBA championship in June 1998. Jeff Haynes, AFP/file

In the middle of the beef was Pippen, the 6-foot-7 Swiss Army knife of a forward whom Jordan considered to be his best teammate ever and whom Krause first scouted as a little-known entity from University of Central Arkansas and doggedly pursued in the 1987 draft to form that devastating 1-2 punch with Jordan.

Also at the crux of the conflict was Phil Jackson, the man Jordan proclaimed as the only head coach he’ll ever play for. Jackson’s hiring was another diamond-in-the-rough move by Krause, who plucked Jackson out of the tier-two Continental Basketball Association and offered him a job as an assistant coach before taking over as the top shot caller. 

But just as Krause giveth, he taketh away.

Prior to the 1997-98 campaign, Krause had floated the idea that Pippen would be traded; otherwise, the Bulls could lose him to free agency. Krause also declared that Jackson wasn't going to be hired after that season, as Jackson demanded a much-deserved, but nonetheless exorbitant raise. 

If Pippen and Jackson’s time was up, there was no way Jordan was coming back. 

If those dominoes dropped, all the blame would fall squarely on Krause — the departure of Jordan, the dismantling of a dynasty, and the end of a glorious era not just in Chicago sports but in basketball history.

And yet, Krause cut a sympathetic figure in this first installment of “The Last Dance.”

“I will always give Jerry Krause credit for assembling a roster that fit,” says former Bulls guard John Paxson, a quote inserted between the image of Krause signing Pippen and Horace Grant, and the story of how Krause dealt Charles Oakley to the New York Knicks to get center Bill Cartwright.

In retrospect, even Jordan, Oakley’s best friend early on with the Bulls, had to acknowledge the trade was crucial; Grant and Cartwright became the starters on the Bulls’ first “3-peat.”

“Things were in place for us to win, when (Oakley) left,” Jordan says.

As much as Jordan’s imprint on the Bulls’ magical run through the 1990s was undeniable, the same could be said of Krause’s contribution, if that wasn’t already clear. And if it wasn’t at the time, especially in the aftermath of the Bulls’ abrupt deconstruction, then “The Last Dance” should end any debate. 

There’s a part of the documentary where Krause says he was misquoted, referring to the statement “Organizations win titles, players do.” 

“What I said was that players and coaches alone don’t win championships, that organizations do,” explains Krause, who died in 2017 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in the same year.

“I do sincerely believe that organizations, as a whole, win.”

Whether those were Krause’s actual sentiments, it’s hard to say.

But the results that he, Jordan and those Bulls top to bottom accomplished is indisputable proof that Krause speaks the truth, the constant butting of heads, notwithstanding.

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