Phil Jackson knows statistics. He’s first in NBA coaching history in playoff wins and championships. He’s best in playoff and regular season winning percentage for those coaching more than five seasons.
Thanks in large part to Jerry Krause, Jackson understands, because Jackson was about to become a labor statistic in 1987. Jackson applied for unemployment, out of coaching, out of work, considering a return to school, perhaps private business. He wasn’t sure anymore.
Hopes and expectations had become an anchor for his nascent coaching career. Jerry Krause threw him the lifesaver that buoyed a special cruise through the NBA record books.
Krause knew. After all, typical of the late Bulls general manager, Krause had been taking notes on Jackson for the previous 20 years.
That intense study and innate willingness to think and act creatively were premier characteristics of Krause that led, inevitably, to enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Krause, who died March 21, will be enshrined posthumously Friday in the Class of 2017, which includes Tracy McGrady, George McGinnis, Bill Self, Muffet McGraw and Rebecca Lobo.
Krause’s legacy, in addition to six championships with the Bulls in the 1990s, was the hiring of coaches who went on to legendary careers, including Jackson, Doug Collins and Tex Winter.
Krause renewed Winter’s stalled college coaching career and Winter went on to be honored by the Hall of Fame for his influence with the triple post offense. Collins went on to be a premier NBA coach and honored by the Hall of Fame’s media wing. The Bulls under Krause had arguably the most accomplished coaching staff in NBA history with Jackson, Winter and Johnny Bach, the latter an NBA player, head coach, assistant, college coach and defensive guru.
Perhaps it was Krause’s nature as a nonconformist and maverick that drew him to the man who wrote the book, Maverick.
“Jerry did not want you to think like the herd, which was probably why I got the job,” Jackson acknowledged in an interview about Krause’s enshrinement. “He was an outlier and he knew that. He like outliers in that regard.”
The son of missionaries with arms so long he seemingly could reach the big sky was Krause’s kind of guy. Phil did things his way and somewhat anonymously. And he also had the mind of a calculator, all traits Krause admired and would eventually lead Jackson to the Bulls and six championships.
“Jerry saw me play at the U of North Dakota,” Jackson recalled. “We had a team ranked second in the country in the college division a couple of seasons. We played DePaul and Loyola in Chicago and then Loyola agreed to come out to play us in North Dakota. He was working for the Baltimore Bullets at the time (after starting his scouting career with the Chicago Zephyrs before their trip east). I had a big game, made like 19 of 20 free throws and had 39 points or something like that and we beat Loyola and they had been the champs a few years before.
“Bill Fitch was my coach and he was a young 35-year-old guy and Jerry was probably 27,” Jackson recalled. “After the game, Jerry wanted to meet me, which is something you couldn’t do in this day and age. So Bill Fitch had him in a car in the parking lot and I got in the car and Bill says, ‘Jerry, this kid can change the radio station from the back seat.’”
Krause sat up. He didn’t need someone to change the radio stations. But one of his principal scouting tenets was length. Can’t teach it. At a disadvantage without it. Always looking for it.
“Then the Bullets invited me and my roommate, who was a third team all-American, to fly to Baltimore and we ended up playing against Bob Ferry and Gene Shue, the coach and assistant coach; played two on two and hung around with the Bullets people and ultimately they didn’t draft me,” said Jackson, who was picked in the second round, then No. 17, by the New York Knicks. “They had plenty of forwards with Jack Marin, Gus Johnson. They picked Earl Monroe No. 2 and picked a guard (Jimmy Jones) who went to the ABA. But every sequential year after that when Jerry was in Chicago we always saw eachother. He always made a point of coming over and saying hi and talking, saying, ‘I wish we would have drafted you.’ Or whatever. Some kind of comment, but always a good conversation. One thing about Jerry: If he liked you and you responded with genuine warmth, you were his friend.
“Jerry stayed in touch and he found out where I was and I was in the CBA,” said Jackson. “He hadn’t been hired yet by the Chicago Bulls, but he got a hold of me in the process of trying to find out who was a talent (in the CBA). He was in baseball; he’d been out of basketball a few years since the debacle with Ed Badger and Ray Meyer and how it all went down in Chicago. I think he was general manager for something like four months and out. So I did a list of CBA players for him, maybe 90 or 100 players on the Apple program, setting up height and weight, college, attributes, scouting. I sent him this file. He had asked me to do it and he was impressed with it.”
That was another custom of Krause’s in what was a research career that would make Library of Congress archivists proud. Krause would often ask acquaintances on the fringes of the game, in the minor leagues, overseas, in the small colleges, to compile dossiers for him, to tap their knowledge of where the herd wasn’t grazing. It would be no coincidence that Krause would be famous for identifying players from these small colleges, like Scottie Pippen and long before Clifford Ray and Robert Parish.
“Jerry was a big phone guy and he’d call me a number of times,” Jackson related. “I’d had a couple of interviews with NBA teams, I think, as a courtesy. Nothing came of it; then it kind of fell off. Jerry picked Stan Albeck his first coach and he asked would I fly up from Puerto Rico (coaching summer league) and that story had been told (Jackson with his beard and oversized Panama hat unappealing to the conservative Albeck). He chose someone else to be assistant coach. I think John Killilea was Stan’s choice, but that was someone who hadn’t treated Jerry well and Jerry wouldn’t have any part of him (Mike Thibault was kept as a holdover and Gene Littles was added). The subsequent year Stan was fired and I thought maybe that was my opportunity. But Doug was chosen, someone local with a lot of enthusiasm. I thought I was ready to be a head coach. I’d actually quit the CBA. I had two interviews, one with Al Bianchi in New York and Rick Pitino and waited all summer for a decision and it never happened.”
It looked like Jackson’s basketball road had reached the end of the cliff.
“We went back from Montana to Woodstock and (wife) June had a job in a hospice,” said Jackson. “I went to the unemployment office. Then I got a call from Jerry in late September, right after my birthday, the 17th . Gene Littles came in and asked to resign to take a job with the Charlotte Hornets, who were just setting up their franchise. Jerry called me and had a few other guys in to interview. He asked me to cut my beard, which I didn’t the time before, look the part, get a suit out and the whole bit. Bach and Tex were there, but in their 60s. So they were looking for someone to be out on the road to do the scouting and advance and the running around part; I fit.
“I was on the road a lot and then the one incident happened with Michael leaving practice (Jordan storming out of a 1987 preseason practice in a dispute with Collins),” Jackson recalled. “I was on the road a lot that season and then Jerry said, ‘I don’t want you to be on the road anymore.’ I spent the first three months that first year on the road and then I was with the team all the time.”
But with Jackson having cracked his own glass ceiling toward respectability, there finally were possibilities with the NBA expanding. Krause would prove a prescient guide for the 32-year-old rookie coach.
“Jerry kept encouraging me to be patient,” Jackson said. He’d say, ‘There are better jobs than Minnesota, Charlotte, Orlando. Those are going to be expansion jobs and there are going to be coaches who coach there a couple of years and move on because you are not going to win.’ Like Dick Harter went to Charlotte, Bill Musselman went to Minnesota. Those were experienced coaches looking for a job. He said I shouldn’t be impatient if they didn’t pick me. He was genuinely concerned.”
Jackson knows Krause’s influence was paramount in his success. And though they split at the end of Jackson’s Bulls’ tenure, Jackson said he had high regard for the way Krause did his job and it long remained an influence in Jackson’s basketball life and success.
“Jerry was very good with the draft, kept everything very tight; very closed,” Jackson noted, Krause infamous for his alter ego as “the Sleuth. “He was very concerned about leaks and discussions with other personnel, keeping everything in house. He’d say, ‘We know our players’ warts; we know how they look and we want to get these chickens ready for plucking if we want to move them. We’re going to fatten them up and we’re going to make them look good.’ I think there were four players kept from my first two years there, (John) Paxson, Jordan, (Scottie) Pippen and (Horace) Grant. We pretty much changed personnel to build those championship teams. He really filled out the roster and he made the trade for Bill Cartwright, which was a major change, I thought, a really good move. One of his strengths was taking a guy we inherited and being able to trade guys, bigger names like Sidney Green, Orlando Woolridge, to get players who fit.”
Krause was secretive, perhaps to an abnormal extreme. But among the staff he was open and willing to encourage dialogue, suggesting a more confident and secure mien than many often believed. And he reveled in his iconoclastic methods.
“Jerry was ‘the Sleuth,’ his moniker, his slouch hat and raincoat,” said Jackson. “He kind of enjoyed that. Might not ask for a ticket. He’d buy a ticket and slide into a field house, maybe watch a practice, maybe have an agreement with a coach to watch practice, but not to be seen by the other scouts, unobtrusively sit in the stands, fill out his cards and make his notes. He had favorites; he fell in love with players. A lot he couldn’t reach in the draft or to get. But I didn’t see him make a lot of mistakes on guys he fell in love with.
“He was very enamored with the player’s internal ability to compete and relied on that a lot as a determining factor,” said Jackson. “There was a motto he had that skill is secondary to character; the character has to be there. The other thing he said was, ‘You don’t change the spots on a leopard.’ That was his thing, that you weren’t going to change the personality of a player just because he came to your team and he’s going to be all of a sudden different. He was willing to take a risk on Dennis Rodman, but that was because he saw the drive and the competitive nature of Dennis. It outweighed the other obstacles that would be thrown up by his personality. And we had a high character, driven team at that time. So that was something he was willing to do.
“He always kept notes,” Jackson added, “these spiral notebooks. Conversations on the phone were jotted, noted. When you came in to talk about personnel, decisions to be made, he always had notes, very detailed in that regard. He’d come back and remember from the past. ‘Here’s an interest from another ball club. Jerry didn’t want the staff to listen to the opinions of the ‘experts.’ He didn’t want that mock draft, order of picks. He just wanted five guys at a position. ‘Do your research on them and come back and give up your information.’ Post season, one of the things he did was he listened to everyone in the organization talk about the roster, the 12 players we had, had everyone speak and very rarely would the coach make a comment. He didn’t want anyone be swayed by the coach and be a copycat.”
Jackson took a one-season hiatus after leaving the Bulls in 1998, the breaking point a feud with Krause in which Krause announced Jackson’s effective firing the first day of training camp in 1997. They didn’t speak much afterward, but Jackson said he carried Krause’s influences with him.
“I had to temper what to say when I was in LA,” Jackson admitted. “I couldn’t say, ‘The Bulls wouldn’t do things this way.’ The Lakers felt they knew how to do things even though they were 10 years behind Jerry. We had the cable system (Jerry) Reinsdorf put in at the Berto Center to tape all the games we wanted. We started using an internist as the doctor to process players’ needs as a whole player and not just (a specialist). He used (Al) Vermeil in weight training. Our players were on offseason programs training. He bought into Al’s belief it took 10 weeks or more for a player to build a base to work through during the course of a season. So offseason training was important. A day or two after we lost to Detroit (in 1990) there were 10 players working out as a unit. We had a psychologist available; all these things when I went to L.A. were not in place, video, medical, therapist, massage therapy. One season with all those four in five nights we had no injuries, one player all season on a 10-day contract. He was ahead of the curve I’d say by 10 years in a lot of the things we did for the whole person, a players’ total being.”
Jerry Krause the scout, the executive, the innovator. The Hall of Famer.