By Terry Boers–
(CBS) Because I couldn’t take one more minute of Hurricane Irma tearing up one island after another on its way to what was to be an almost certain weekend massacre of Florida, I took time off late last Friday to watch the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for the first time in many years.
How many? I can’t be specific, but I’d say it must be in the range of at least 20 years ago, perhaps even 30.
And aside from Irma fatigue, why would I do such a thing? Because late Bulls executive Jerry Krause was, at long last, going in to a place he should have been a decade ago, at the very least.
There are only a few things over the 37 years I spent in Chicago media that I feel guilty about, where I wish I could take back some of the things I said or wrote about people involved in many walks of life, not just sports.
I’ve always justified it to myself because I was just doing my job, putting out an opinion for better or worse. Nobody is right all the time, no one is infallible. We all screw up.
I’ve had to own up to a ton of stuff over the years, but the Krause thing was particularly galling because I fell into what can only be described as group think. More to the point, it was The World of Michael Jordan.
If the GOAT didn’t like you, then nobody liked you. As Krause himself once said of Jordan, “He was God, and you don’t fight with God.’’
Sam Smith, author of “The Jordan Rules” said, “You don’t get on the wrong side of Michael Jordan and become popular.’’
But spend as much time with the Bulls as I did through much of the 1980s and you can pretty much figure that one out for yourself. Jordan was hardly the first sports power broker in the locker room, but it would be hard to imagine anyone ever wielded it better than he did.
And it all began in MJ’s second season.
I was still covering the team in 1985 when Jordan broke his foot early in the season and missed 64 games. I can distinctly remember some of the anger that ticket buyers felt, none more than those in Golden State, where the Warriors actually sold out the Cow Palace for the first time in ages in anticipation of seeing Jordan. His absence made it a long, ugly night.
The first major showdown between Krause and Jordan came after Jordan returned late in the season, only to find the Bulls had him on a minutes limit. Jordan immediately balked at the idea, claiming the “love of the game” clause in his contract trumped all. He wanted to play all night, every night.
Jordan would say that Krause pooh-poohed the contract clause. Krause wanted Jordan to err on the side of caution, allegedly telling him, “You’re Bulls property and we tell you what to do’’ Jordan would later tell Sports Illustrated almost a decade later, “We never hit it off after that.” What galled Jordan was Krause calling him property.
Years after the fact, no one knows if Krause said that or not.
What is clear is that by the time the Bulls won their first championship in 1991, the locker room gained unity through their mutual hatred of Krause.
Thing is, that locker room was Krause’s creation. He’s the one who drafted Scottie Pippen out of itty-bitty Central Arkansas and patiently waited for Pip to grow up. He was the one who took Horace Grant in the same draft and waited for him to gain the necessary strength to compete every night. He was also the one who traded for Bill Cartwright in 1988, sending Charles Oakley off to the New York Knicks in another move Jordan didn’t like.
But then, Jordan didn’t seem happy about anything Krause had done, refusing to give him even the slightest hint of a compliment about anything. The closest he came to saying something remotely kind came when he claimed he wasn’t the one who’d nicknamed Krause “crumbs,’’ that it had been Oakley.
Hey, I said remotely. What I do know is that in the late ‘80s when the Pond Scum Detroit Pistons would take on the yearly duty of eliminating the Bulls from the Eastern Conference playoffs, Jordan didn’t assume much of the blame, telling me once that I needed to go ask “the fat guy in the blue shirt.”
I did that many, many times and I never came away fully satisfied, but then I never really thought I would be. Krause isn’t the first general manager who preferred keeping things to himself, who enjoyed his many stealth missions. That’s just who he was. It’s how he did his business. He was, after all, dubbed the “The Sleuth’’ by Pat Williams, a guy I happen to like.
All told, I dealt with a lot of general managers over the years in various sports and probably only liked a handful of them, most notably the White Sox’s Roland Hemond of the White Sox, the Bulls’ Rod Thorn (the executive whom Krause replaced) and the Bears’ Jerry Angelo, who seemed to get it on many levels.
The point is that Krause wasn’t any more obtuse or difficult or controversial than a bunch of executives I ran into over the years.
As for Jordan, his Hall of Fame acceptance speech was one of the most mean-spirited anyone had ever heard. And it was completely uncalled for.
What I ultimately did was to allow Jordan and others to make up my mind about Krause, to categorize him as an evil presence not to be trusted with anything or anybody.
I should have thought about it more at the time. At least I now see the error of my ways. There’s no way I should’ve taken the delight I did in giving Krause the business. Were there times when he deserved it? Absolutely. Were there more times when he didn’t? Sadly, yes.
I can recall after the first three NBA titles and Jordan’s “retirement’’ to baseball and the subsequent comeback to the NBA that I hated to see Dennis Rodman in a Bulls uniform after all those years with Detroit.
But Rodman’s toughness and rebounding were exactly what the Bulls needed. As loathsome as he might be as a person, without him, the Bulls don’t collect those last three championships that made them one of the league’s greatest winners.
Krause was right. Again. At least I had a chance to tell him so.
It was spring 2006, and The Score had become the radio home for the White Sox, a place they would be for the next 10 years. All of us at the station spent more time at the ballpark in those days, just hanging around having some fun. I remember that I took a trip over to the press box after the game had started that night, just to say hello to some old media friends.
But who do I see first? None other than Krause, back to his baseball roots in his capacity as a scout for the New York Mets. I wasn’t sure how he’d greet me, but I thought I’d give it a try.
He couldn’t have been nicer, telling me to grab a chair. For the next hour or so we talked about his family and mine, the radio station and, yes, the old days with the Bulls. Not once did he mention anything I’d ever written, choosing instead to just have some fun with all of it.
I never knew that Jerry Krause existed. But I promise you, he did. We went over old games and old names, never once talking about any specifics of what I’d once said, although I knew he read it.
The bottom line here is that he was fun. We had a great time, and listening to him was like taking a stroll through a basketball history book. I was just glad that he bore no ill will toward me, although I wouldn’t have blamed if he did.
It was a side of Krause I’d never seen before. And I loved it.
I just wish he’d lived to see the Hall of Fame. He died just 10 days before the honorees were announced.
He would have had every right to tell all of us to shove it, but I don’t think for a second that’s what he would have done, even though I had it coming.
I also know this for sure: Krause was damn good at his job, no matter what Michael Jordan or anyone else says.
Terry Boers was a longtime sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a host on 670 The Score from the station’s inception in 1992 until he retired in January 2017.