(CBS) When Jerry Krause took over as Bulls general manager in 1985, he admits, half-jokingly, that he inherited star Michael Jordan and “11 guys I didn’t want.”
He knew the large task ahead of him in building around someone as talented as Jordan and also knew he needed to get the process moving as soon as he could. It turned out to be the 1987 NBA Draft that was the most pivotal night of Krause’s decision-making in constructing a team around Jordan, as the Bulls nabbed future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen at No. 5 and eventual All-Star forward Horace Grant at No. 10.
It wasn’t simple, though. To get Pippen, a long series of events had to play out, as Krause explained recently in an insightful podcast episode of The Vertical with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
Krause and the Bulls were tipped off to Pippen’s talents by the late Marty Blake, who for years the league’s director of scouting. Krause sent front office cohort Billy McKinney to scout Pippen. McKinney returned relayed back that Pippen was a “great athlete” with the “longest arms I’ve ever seen,” but he had no clue whether Pippen was good at basketball because the competition that his Central Arkansas team played was “terrible,” as Krause said.
So ahead of the 1987 draft, Krause and McKinney went to the Portsmouth Invitational, a draft combine for prospects to prove their themselves.
“I fell in love,” Krause said of Pippen on The Vertical podcast. “I thought, ‘Oh my god.'”
The Bulls held the No. 8 and No. 10 picks at the time. At that point, Krause thought the Bulls could grab Pippen at No. 10 with “no problem,” but Pippen moved on to other tournaments and draft combines in Hawaii and Chicago in the following weeks. His stock skyrocketed.
And the more Krause talked to rival executives and agents in Chicago, the more concerned he became about whether Pippen would be available at No. 8. It was a moment of sly recon in which Krause realized he was going to have to trade up.
“I saw Joe Axelson, may God rest his soul, who was then the general manager of the Sacramento club, was talking to Pip off to the side and in back of the stands one night,” Krause told The Vertical. “And I leaned over and I saw it and I said, ‘Uh oh, they’re picking sixth, and I don’t like that conversation, the way it’s going.’ I’m looking at Axelson, and his eyes are a little buggy. And I thought, ‘Uh oh, we got a problem.’ So in the next week or so — they had the sixth pick and they also swore to everybody in the world — Joe was real good at this — he swore to everybody in the world they were going to take Kenny Smith from North Carolina. And Kenny Smith took five or six Cybex tests before that draft on a knee, and he didn’t take one at Sacramento. And I thought, ‘Uh oh, I’m getting lied to.’ He’s going to take Pippen.”
It was then that Krause ramped up trade discussions with Sonics general manager Bob Whitsitt. They talked for days leading up to the draft, and at 4 a.m. the night before the event, they verbally agreed to a deal after a long back-and-forth. The Bulls would give the Sonics the No. 8 pick, two future second-rounders and a future swap of first-round picks in exchange for the No. 5 pick, as Krause remembered it. (The swap of first-rounders never came to fruition to be conveyed.)
“I gave him everything I had, all the garbage I had,” Krause said. “I didn’t have any more to give him.”
On draft night, the Bulls and Sonics finalized the trade right after Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was informed by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling via phone that they were taking Georgetown forward Reggie Williams at No. 4.
The Sonics selected Pippen at No. 5 on behalf of the Bulls, and the trade would become official when the draft was over. Chicago took big man Olden Polynice at No. 8 for Seattle. Pippen would go on to be a seven-time All-Star and help lead the Bulls to six championships. Chicago would then nab difference-making forward Horace Grant at No. 10 too. Polynice would play parts of 15 seasons, averaging 7.8 points per game.
“What I wanted was another great athlete,” Krause told The Vertical of drafting Pippen. “I think defensively so much. My mind is so much geared, going all the way back … I’ve always been defense-oriented. What I saw in Pippen was a chance to be a great defensive player. I saw a guy with long arms and quick feet and big hands and all the things — who couldn’t shoot. He was not a good shooter. Now, when I first saw Michael Jordan, he wasn’t a good shooter either. Shooting can be improved. It’s a skill, it can be worked at. What I saw in Pippen was a guy that could guard ones, twos, threes and fours, and I fell in love with that.”