Jerry Reinsdorf was perhaps most reassured he’d made the right choice in Jerry Krause when Krause was most wrong. No one makes the correct decision all the time; it’s the person who surrounds themself with the brightest minds, engages, debates, listens and then makes the best selection is who usually succeeds.
For the Bulls and Jerry Krause it meant one of the premier dynasties in NBA history, six Bulls championships and Friday the enshrinement of Krause in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
A great scout understands physical talent and competitiveness; a great executive appreciates mental acuity, boldness and self confidence. A Hall of Famer is able to combine them.
“His strength really was scouting; not administrative, but from an administrative strength it was surrounding himself with qualified people and then encouraging them to speak their mind and being willing to admit he wasn’t right all the time; that is a strength,” said Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf, who hired Krause as his first general manager in 1985. “There was his assistant Karen Stack, the way he utilized Irwin Mandel and the salary cap, the right coaching staff, his knowledge of the rules, his work ethic.
“Every conversation he ever had was written down on a yellow pad and he could go back on it,” said Reinsdorf. “There never was a question about who said what to whom. When you talk about Jerry Krause and what made him so good, it was in the scouting area: His imagination, his ability to identify talent, both playing and coaching. He found Doug Collins, he found Phil Jackson.”
Though Reinsdorf, who Friday will appear on stage in Springfield as the Hall of Fame presenter for Krause’s enshrinement, points to when Krause was about to be very wrong as one of the reasons why he was right so often.
It was the famous 1987 NBA draft that effectively filled in the pieces around Michael Jordan and seriously began the Bulls’ road to historic glory. Krause was certain that North Carolina big man, Joe Wolf, was the right complement to the drafting of Scottie Pippen. Though Pippen had moved up quickly that season from unknown and Bulls find to the hottest draft prospect, Krause’s maneuvers with trades involving Juwan Oldham and Olden Polynice enabled the Bulls to get the future Hall of Famer and alltime top 50 player.
But Krause also wanted Wolf, an OKP in his view, his shorthand for the right sort of character and competitiveness, Our Kind of People.
“He always was looking for skills, but character was very important to him,” said Reinsdorf. “He always wanted to know what guys were doing when they weren’t playing. He liked to watch them on the bench, interacting. He did a lot of due diligence in talking to people who knew them.
“That 1987 draft we were going to take Joe Wolf, his kind of player, tough guy, character, but Horace (Grant) started to slip,” Reinsdorf recalled. “That whole year had been devoted to getting Pippen. All year Pippen is our guy and then he goes to the predraft camp in (Portsmouth) and then we knew we were in trouble and he had to maneuver to get Pippen. The second pick would be Joe Wolf.
“We’re taking Wolf, but the coaches were getting excited,” Reinsdorf recalled. “They’re saying if Horace gets to us we’ve got to take him. Krause says no: Wolf. We’re now two picks before and the coaches are lobbying for Horace. I say to Jerry, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ I tell him he has my full confidence and whatever he wants to do, it’s his call. He comes back and says he’s changed to Horace. He was enough executive to say, ‘People I respect want Grant and I’ll trust their judgment.’ To me, that’s executive strength.
“One important element of a great executive is the strength to hire the best people and then listen to them,” Reinsdorf added, “The confidence and courage to admit you don’t know everything and that the people you hired know things as well. I always say I want people to do their job better than I can. It’s the strongest people who can let others disagree with you, take strong positions and not get upset. Jerry was able to do that.”
Reinsdorf admits he had no idea, not only whether Krause could do the job but even who he was. Even after he hired him, Reinsdorf said NBA commissioner David Stern asked why he’d done so. Him? But if Krause didn’t look or sound the part—and he never would to many in the public and media—he seemed almost to read Reinsdorf’s mind about what success meant in basketball.
Reinsdorf wasn’t sure he could explain it, and he knew he couldn’t deliver it himself. But he knew it when he saw it. When Reinsdorf was getting involved with the Bulls purchase a few years after putting together a group to acquire the Chicago White Sox, he did speak with former Knick Bill Bradley. That was it: Ball movement, passing, unselfish play, strong defense. OK, built around the league’s best scorer. But it still was possible.
“I never thought in terms of a timetable for a championship,” Reinsdorf admits. “I just wanted to be good enough to challenge for one. Out of the blue Jerry comes to me because he wants to be the general manager. I basically humored him by talking to him. I thought it was a joke. My first experience with Jerry was with the White Sox at our first organization meeting and this guy wouldn’t shut up. I say to (general manager) Roland Hemond, ‘Who is this guy? He just keeps talking.’ He tells me he’s Jerry Krause. I said, ‘Can’t you shut him up?’ He says, ‘No, nobody can shut him up.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you just get rid of him.’ He says he’s too good. That was my only real experience with him.
“Then we buy the team,” Reinsdorf said. “He comes to me and says he wants to be the general manager. I didn’t know he’d even been in basketball. He tells me about his background. So I say, ‘OK, what are you going to do?’ I knew what I wanted, to rebuild the New York Knicks of the 70s, defense, an offense with player movement and movement of the ball. I never said that. But that’s what he laid out to me. He told me he had this guy Tex Winter he was going to bring in. He told me what he was going to do and how. Tex Winter, I guess I’d heard of him. But I’d never heard of the triangle offense, which he explains to me, and a defensive mindset.
“He didn’t know who the head coach would be,” said Reinsdorf. “His first idea was Stan Albeck, but when we interviewed him he said he wasn’t the same Stan. But he didn’t have a second choice and we took a chance. How he came up with Doug Collins I don’t know. He was broadcasting and recruiting at Arizona State. But you could see progress every year with everything that was going on. I didn’t have doubts because of that.
“We started moving players out and got to the playoffs that first year with Michael hurt. “The record wasn’t good,” Reinsdorf acknowledged, “but you could see we were getting better. What I saw was a plan. He knew Johnny Dawkins is not a point guard. Then Brad Sellers was going to be a seven foot shooting forward; there was logic to what he was doing. We didn’t need Dawkins; we had a shooting guard.”
That 1986 draft when Krause selected Sellers over Jordan favorite Dawkins only continued what became an ongoing clash. Guess whose side the fans and media took?
“The thing I look for is I like to know the thought process,” said Reinsdorf. “His thought process was logical and then we got Doug and we immediately got even better. Hiring Doug was right and we won two rounds in the playoffs and Doug’s successful and Jerry says we have to make a change. Now there’s going to be real firestorm.
“But another of his great skills was not worrying about what anyone else thought,” said Reinsdorf. “He was not afraid to make a move that was unpopular either with his own players or the media if it was best for the team and moving forward. He got here despite the abuse, the criticism, the doubts.”
Perhaps in some respects because of it. Krause was also a man of character, competitiveness and intellectual expansion. He knew what he wanted, but he also wasn’t afraid to go beyond and learn. The Bulls of the 1990s certainly defined the passion of Michael Jordan. But they also were much the product of Jerry Krause, a second threepeat of championships that included only two of the same players from the first three championships. No team ever has done that. And in such a short time.
“Jerry’s not here to enjoy this himself,” acknowledged Reinsdorf on heading to Springfield. “But he always said he wanted his grandchildren to have the pleasure of seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame and they will. He always said how much it would mean for his grandchildren, that they’d know he’d been a factor in the game. He very much wanted to get into the Hall of Fame, but for his grandchildren to remember him as a Hall of Famer.”
Now everyone will.