“During the last championship run in 1998,’ writes former Chicago Bulls General manager, the late Jerry Krause, in excerpts of his unrealeased memoir on the Bulls’ Dynastry; “cracks in the foundation of the teams we’d built began to alarmingly show up at inopportune times. To the adoring public, the age that was showing on Dennis Rodman, the lack of movement by Luc Longley, the slowdown in efficiency after playing over 100 games per year in two of the previous three seasons, was not apparent.”
By the title alone, it is obvious that I agree with Krause. He is merely describing what we see (if we chose to put away our rose-tinted lenses) with all sports franchises, teams, and individual players; particularly dynasties. The wheels eventually fall off.
This is what we saw with the Warriors last year. All credit to Toronto for the championship, but injuries and the wear and tear on a team and its players that had been to five straight finals, told on the best team of this basketball generation.
It was clearly no different with the ’98 Bulls, as vividly described by Krause in his book, no matter who tries to bury their heads in the sand. Why Krause has borne the brunt of the blame for what happened with the Bulls is beyond this writer. Breaking up a team, or getting rid of ageing players, just before they go past their prime is the mark of a good manager in any sport.
Arsene Wenger worked near wonders with an Arsenal team that should have been mediocre for years. (As it is now). But he kept us (admitted supporter) in the hunt for the title every year because he kept us young. We all missed Robert Pires, Patrick Viera and Freddy Ljunberg when Wenger shipped them out. At the time I just didn’t get why Wenger was breaking up the greatest football team I’d ever seen play football. But hindsite as they say is 20/20. Wenger, as usual was right.
It’s the same with Bill Belichick, who gets praised by the American sports media for getting rid of players a season or two before they’re over the hill. So why is Krause; who had a fantastic record as a GM, being excoriated for a move other managers have made in the past?
The answer is simple. Michael Jordan.
Yes. I think Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play. But I do not think he is God, as some sports writers clearly do. The rules of wear and tear apply to Jordan as they do to every other player and team. The notion that had Jordan not retired for two years and had Krause not prematurely broken up the Bulls in 98; that Jordan would have won ten in a row, is ludicrous, and bordering on idolatrous. (Allow me to reiterate. Much of the Jerry Krause bashing is sourced in the media’s idolising of one Michael Jordan.)
To return to Krause’s book. He said of Jordan: “to the fans and media, we had Michael Jordan and he could overcome anything. He could play without a center and a power forward for a capped team with little or no flexibility and still win by himself.”
A very true assessment of the idol worship of the fans and the media. A worship that excludes by necessity, any objectivity when it comes to the reality of the situation. No one, not even MJ, could win a title by himself. As Krause rhetorically asks in the book excerpt: “Can Michael continue his greatness without a center, power forward and possibly Pippen? Could Bill Russell, the greatest team player ever, have won without great players around him? No.”
“Michael has said publicly that he will not play for a coach other than Phil.” Krause continues. “Phil has told us he’s gone. What does Michael do? Could we get Phil to coach without a proven center, power forward, probably Pippen, a basically new bench and crazy expectations that “in Michael we trust” can win without help? Not a chance.”
Not a chance indeed. But these are facts ignored by the Jordan idolaters; some of whom believe Jordan could have won by himself. But he couldn’t.
Krause recalled a meeting in July of 98, where he was informed by the teams doctors and surgeons; that physically, the bulls were done and needed to rebuild.
“Put yourself in our shoes” Krause asks the reader; “as we walk out of that room. What would you do? Did we break up a dynasty or was the dynasty breaking up of age, natural attrition of NBA players with little time to recuperate and the salary-cap rules that govern the game?”
Essentially it’s all of the above. Krause broke up the team based on the information he had. As he recalled: “Rodman played 35 more games, never able to regain his previous form.” We all know how Scottie Pippen failed to win without Michael Jordan.
Jordan could have taken a year, maybe two off and still come back as perhaps the best player. But he opted not to do so.
Jerry Krause has been roundly criticised for saying organisations win championships. As if it were so erroneous or egregious to make such a simple statement of fact. Yet after Krause died, MJ had no problem acknowledging Krause’s contribution; an admission, witting or otherwise, that Krause was right, and it is the organisation that wins. Said Jordan at the news of Krause’s death: “Jerry was a key figure in the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s and meant so much to the Bulls, the White Sox and the entire city of Chicago. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Thelma, his family and friends.”
Phil Jackson’s eulogy was even more poignant: “The news of Jerry’s death is a sad day for the Bulls and the entire NBA community. He was a man determined to create a winning team in Chicago — his hometown. Jerry was known as ‘The Sleuth’ for his secrecy, but it was no secret that he built the dynasty in Chicago. We, who were part of his vision in that run, remember him today.”
In other words, (at least just after Jerry Krause passed) neither Jordan nor Jackson had a problem with Krause’s notion; that organisations, not players win Chanpionships. But the breakup has been placed squarely at the feet of Krause; with much of the premise for that blame established on the notion that organisations, not players win championships.