Former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause is positioned as the main antagonist to NBA legend Michael Jordan in ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the documentary series examining the franchise’s pivotal 1997-98 season.
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Krause, who died in 2017, worked as the Bulls general manager from 1985 to 2003, taking over a franchise that had drafted Jordan out of the University of North Carolina the previous year. A polarizing figure in basketball circles, Krause nevertheless served as the primary architect of a Bulls dynasty that won six NBA titles during the 1990s, drafting key contributors such as Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.
His contentious relationship with many Bulls figures, including head coach Phil Jackson, has been a major storyline throughout “The Last Dance.” Krause famously told Jackson, who was in the final year of his contract that he wouldn’t return to coach the Bulls after 1998 even if the team went undefeated.
“He had a way of alienating people,” Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said in an early episode of the series, referring to Krause.
Krause’s treatment of Jackson rankled Jordan, a prominent Jackson supporter, but it was just one of several clashes between the headstrong individuals. Jordan was known to refer to Krause as “Crumbs” and poke fun at his height and weight. Krause was 5-foot-6.
Krause traded away Charles Oakley, one of Jordan’s favorite teammates, as part of his efforts to reshape the Bulls roster in the late 1980s. Later, he fawned over Kukoc’s talent, irritating Jordan and Pippen, who felt their own accomplishments were overlooked.
One of the most high-profile incidents referenced in “The Last Dance” involved Krause’s feud with Pippen over the terms of his contract. In 1997, Pippen was entering the final season of a seven-year, $18 million contract that left him as the sixth-highest-paid player on the Bulls despite his clear status as Jordan’s most talented teammate.
The second episode of the series chronicled Pippen’s feud with Krause and Reinsdorf, including his decision to delay surgery on his foot until shortly before the 1997-98 season began. Jordan was critical of that decision.
Despite his clashes with players and coaches alike, Krause was considered one of the NBA’s top general managers. His other key Bulls acquisitions included Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Bill Cartwright.
A two-time NBA executive of the year, he was posthumously inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.