Jerry Krause, Chicago Bulls' General Manager, Left Behind a Complex Legacy

ESPN docuseries 'The Last Dance' covers Jerry Krause, the infamous general manager who impacted Michael Jordan's career. Krause died in 2017.

If you've been following the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance (opens in new tab), or followed Michael Jordan during his time with the Chicago Bulls), you'll no doubt be familiar with Jerry Krause, the infamous Bulls general manager of the '90s and early '00s. Krause couldn't give interviews for the series; he passed away in 2017. It's unclear if Krause's death and legacy will be covered at all—as of this writing, the final episodes have yet to be released—but the series primarily covers 1997-8, Jordan's last season with the Bulls, so it's very possible it won't be. Krause was, by all accounts, a complex figure, and he left behind a complicated—but famous—legacy.

Krause joined the Bulls in 1985 and became known for recruiting players that complemented Jordan, including Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Krause also hired Phil Jackson, the man who became head coach in 1989. But there was animosity between Krause and Jordan, as well as between Krause and some of the other players, including the vastly underpaid Pippen. The Last Dance includes several scenes of Jordan mocking Krause's height and weight; Krause also became infamous for one of his quotes before the 1997-8 season. From his New York Times obituary: (opens in new tab)

Krause was quoted as saying that players and coaches do not win championships; organizations do. Krause said later that he had been misquoted when one word—'alone,' after 'championships'—was dropped, but it seemed that he was promoting himself at the expense of Jordan and Jackson.

jerry krause, 10 jun 1997 chicago bulls general manager jerry krause talks to the media during a practice session, prior to an nba finals game between the utah jazz and the chicago bulls at the delta center in salt lake city, utah mandatory credit brian bahr allsport

Krause speaking to reporters in 1997.

(Image credit: Brian Bahr)

The Last Dance (which Jordan partnered on) has...thoughts about Krause, specifically about his decision to dismantle the '90s team in favor of "building a new dynasty," as The Ringer (opens in new tab) puts it. Krause told Jackson that 1997-8 would be his last season no matter what, but Jordan said he wouldn't play without Jackson. Krause's plan backfired—the Bulls had five bad seasons, and Krause resigned near the end of 2002-3 to return to scouting for baseball teams. But Jackson, who became Knicks president in 2014, acknowledged at the time that Krause's initially successful strategy was worthy of imitation.

Krause passed away (opens in new tab) in 2017 at 77. When the Bulls made the announcement, they didn't give any details, but the Chicago Tribune (opens in new tab) reported he'd been suffering health issues, including a bone disease called osteomyelitis. Krause was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, and his wife Thelma accepted on his behalf.

"Jerry had always hoped this day would come," she said in the speech. "He said he never worked a day in his life, equating his job to being a kid in a candy store."

watch 'The Last Dance' on ESPN+ (opens in new tab)

Katherine J. Igoe
Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.