Jerry Krause, the general manager as the Bulls became a global brand with a dynamic dynasty that produced six NBA championships in eight seasons, died on Tuesday after battling persistent health issues, including osteomyelitis. He was 77.
Krause, who always called himself a scout at heart, retired last spring from Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. That capped a five-decade-plus run as a sports executive that began when he took a $65-per-week job as a glorified gopher for the Chicago Cubs in 1961.
A finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the contributor category, Krause gained his greatest notoriety for engineering most of the moves to surround Michael Jordan during the Bulls’ dynasty. Rod Thorn, whom Krause succeeded, drafted Jordan in 1984, the year before new Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf hired Krause.
In a statement provided to the Tribune, Jordan paid his respects.
“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,” Jordan said. “My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Thelma, his family and friends”
Krause hired coach Phil Jackson out of obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association to serve on Doug Collins’ staff. Krause also eventually replaced Collins, who had a successful run despite Krause hiring him with no coaching experience, with Jackson.
He hired Hall of Fame assistant coach Tex Winter, whose triangle offense the Bulls employed to success and occasionally basketball poetry. Krause also hired the late, great Johnny Bach to serve as the defensive coordinator of the first three-peat.
Krause landed both Scottie Pippen, another Hall of Famer, and Horace Grant in the 1987 NBA draft, solidifying two starters for the Bulls first three-peat. Against Jordan’s wishes, he traded Charles Oakley to the Knicks for starting center Bill Cartwright.
Krause drafted Toni Kukoc, a critical player in the second three-peat, in the second round. And he traded for future Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to land another cornerstone for the dynasty to continue on the other side of Jordan’s first retirement.
Krause, nicknamed “The Sleuth,” alienated some with his secretive ways and occasionally gruff social demeanor. But even Jackson, with whom he later experienced professional discord, acknowledged Krause’s success as a plan to emulate when Jackson became Knicks president in March 2014.
As an NBA scout with the Baltimore Bullets, Krause is credited for drafting Hall of Famers Earl Monroe and Jerry Sloan. He also presided over the Bulls’ failed rebuilding effort following the collapse of the dynasty, which led to Reinsdorf, a close friend, replacing him after 18 years with John Paxson in 2003.
Krause also hired current general manager Gar Forman as a scout.
“He’s relentless,” Reinsdorf said in an interview with the Tribune about Krause last year. “He works very hard. He comes before the games. He wants to see what players do during batting practice or warmup drills. He seeks out information, talks to a lot of people. And then he keeps everything to himself.”
Raised by working class parents in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, Krause, who attended Taft High School, took great pride in being a local kid who made good.
A voracious reader, Krause’s love for the city of Chicago was both palpable and genuine. He’d often talk of his fondness for the lions that sit outside the Art Institute as a symbol of the city’s strength and honor.
“There were many who said a little guy from Albany Park couldn’t,” Krause said in an interview with the Tribune last year. “But I did.”
A memorial service is scheduled for April 9. Krause is survived by his wife, Thelma, two children and four grandchildren.