The Late Jerry Krause: Greatest NBA Executive Ever

Jerry Krause is the greatest basketball architect in modern NBA history. He passed away on Tuesday at the age of 77. Krause, as a talent, was so rare. In this article, we examine Krause’s career.

The Late Jerry Krause: Greatest NBA Executive Ever

Krause in the Early Years

Jerry Krause considered himself to be a scout. In a recent interview with The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Krause said that in his heart, he’s still a scout.

As a talent evaluator, Krause made his bones initially as a baseball scout for the Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics, and the Chicago White Sox. The Athletics organization won three World Series titles (1972-74) while Krause was a member of their scouting department. The man had an eye for talent; few could ever doubt or dream to rival him. While with the White Sox, Krause was influential in the acquisition of several players, including current team president Ken Williams. Other players included Ozzie Guillen, Julio Cruz, Greg Walker, and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver.

For 12 years, Krause worked both as an MLB scout and an NBA scout. Both were full-time jobs, which Krause had one after the other. After attending Bradley University (class of ’61), Krause took a job as a scout for an NBA team: the Baltimore Bullets. There is a case to be made that he discovered Earl “The Pearl” Monroe for the Bullets. Also while at Baltimore, Krause urged the Bullets’ front office to draft a rangy forward from North Dakota named Phil Jackson in 1967. Baltimore did not pick Jackson, but Krause kept Jackson close. After moving on from the Bullets, Krause worked as a scout with the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and finally the Chicago Bulls.

Building the Champion Bulls

Krause was out of basketball for a few years when, in 1985, he received a call from the new Bulls’ owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf was also the owner of the White Sox. The offer was to replace Rod Thorn as the team’s general manager. Thorn drafted Michael Jordan and Carl Lewis (the Olympic champion) the year before. As a GM, Krause’s genius was on full display but was never truly appreciated.

He discovered a young player with little background in basketball out of Central Arkansas University, which played in the NAIA at the time. That player was Scottie Pippen. Krause orchestrated a trade with the Seattle Supersonics to acquire Pippen in the 1987 NBA Draft. In that same round, Krause drafted a rugged power forward from Clemson University named Horace Grant. This duo and Michael Jordan became the cornerstones of the first Bulls three-peat. As time and years went by, Krause drafted other notable players like Stacey King, B.J. Armstrong, and Will Perdue. Krause was also a trendsetter in scouting European players, as he discovered Croatian forward Toni Kukoc.

Krause also was very much a deal-maker. He was adept at replacing draft picks that under-performed with players who fit the Bulls’ philosophy. One such deal was trading Charles Oakley to the New York Knicks for grizzled veteran center Bill Cartwright. Jordan (who was friends with Oakley) resented that trade and dubbed Cartwright “Medical Bill.” Ironically, Cartwright was brought in to help protect Jordan. Despite Jordan’s skepticism, Cartwright went on to anchor the Bulls’ defense for the first three-peat.

Krause Hires Phil Jackson

While Stan Albeck was the Bulls’ head coach, Krause tried to recruit Jackson as an assistant coach. He was unsuccessful. However, the following coach, Doug Collins, was willing to hire Jackson when an opening presented itself. While working as an assistant, Jackson struck up a relationship with fellow team assistant coach Morice Fredrick “Tex” Winter. Winter was a basketball savant and coaching prodigy; he was the mastermind behind the famed “Triangle Offense.” Winter adopted it from his old college coach, Sam Barry. Jackson came to be Winter’s best disciple and viewed the Triangle not only in basketball terms, but also as a lifestyle.

After three moderately successful seasons with Collins at the helm, Krause thought that it was necessary to make a change. Out went Collins, and Jackson was promoted to head coach. The results that followed speak for themselves.

Completing the Formation of a Dynasty

Michael Jordan is often credited for the Bulls’ success. That’s interesting, because when he abruptly retired in October 1993, the Bulls won 55 games the following season. Remember, the Bulls won 57 games en route to the championship in the prior season. Krause secured the services of Toni Kukoc, who continued playing in Europe after being drafted in 1990. The team also lost Horace Grant due to free agency during that period.

Krause never stopped working. He brought in Ron Harper and Pete Myers to help plug the vacuum left by Jordan. When Jordan returned the following year, Krause traded Perdue to the Spurs for Dennis Rodman. Krause also traded King for Luc Longley. He brought in sharp-shooters like Steve Kerr, as well. The team went on to win another three titles from 1996 to 1998. Krause won the NBA Executive of the Year award in 1996, his second such achievement. The Bulls won a then-regular season record 72 games in 1996, followed by 69 in 1997.

Post-Jordan and Jackson Years

Toward the end of the 1996-97 season, there were rumblings that all was not well in Chicago. Krause and the team were evidently at loggerheads. Jackson and Krause had a very strained relationship. So after ‘the last dance’ ended in 1998, Krause set about rebuilding the team. Jordan retired again. Pippen left via sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets. Longley retired due to injuries. Jackson was not offered a contract after that season, and Krause found his replacement in Tim Floyd.

Krause worked his magic and drafted many talented players. These included Elton Brand, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace), Jamal Crawford, Marcus Fizer, and Jay Williams. When he felt the line-up needed changing further, Krause traded Artest and center Brad Miller for Jalen Rose. He also traded Brand for the rights to a young center named Tyson Chandler. Krause envisioned a young, athletic team. Many of the players mentioned above eventually became All-Stars and won other awards.

Back to Baseball

After retiring from the Bulls, Krause went back to baseball. Krause worked for the New York Mets and finally the Arizona Diamondbacks. He worked with the Diamondbacks until his health no longer allowed him to in 2011.

Tributes Come Rushing In

If there is any doubt of Krause’s pedigree, here’s a simple fact: Jerry Krause built a roster that won six NBA championships. During Krause’s years as GM, the Bulls went from after-thoughts to contenders to champions. Jerry Krause heads a very short list of people who worked in both MLB and NBA front offices.

In the hours following the news of Krause’s passing, many have paid tribute. It seems funny, though fitting, that Jordan honored Krause with such kind words. The Krause dislike and disrespect throughout the years is because of Jordan, who never forgave him. Krause’s legacy is undeniable. Expect him to be enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame. Rest in peace, Jerry Krause, and thank you.


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