In case you missed it, the first two episodes of “The Last Dance” aired Sunday night on ESPN, giving viewers a deeper look into the legend of Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. But the documentary also showed the often-fraught relationship between general manager Jerry Krause and the players.
The late Krause was hired as general manager in 1985, one year after the Bulls had drafted Jordan. The stout executive was undoubtedly an architect of Chicago’s six titles, but he did some things along the way that caused him to become hated by many fans and a villain in history. He brought in Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and more, but he also traded away Charles Oakley, a close teammate of Jordan. There was also Pippen’s disrespectful 7-year, $18 million contract extension that made him just the sixth-highest player on the Bulls and the 122nd-highest in the league by the time it was ending, and the fact that Krause openly considered trading Pippen on multiple occasions. Krause also did not get along with head coach Phil Jackson — he explicitly didn’t invite him to the wedding of his stepdaughter and he reportedly tried to force him out of the organization following the 1997-98 season. Jackson of course won his sixth title with the Bulls that year and then departed to the Los Angeles Lakers where he won five more championships.
In a roundtable discussion on SportsCenter after the episodes aired, ESPN sportswriter Jackie MacMullan, who has covered Jordan for more than three decades, spoke about Krause’s role in the organization and how it deteriorated over time.
“[Jordan] and [Pippen] were both so disrespectful to this man, but there were times when, really, I felt like Jerry deserved it,” she said on the show. “He wanted to be one of the club, and he just wasn’t going to be. And so he decided, ‘Well, I’m going to break up the club.'”
MacMullan also explained how Krause got the nickname, “Crumbs.”
“Jerry Krause wanted those players to love him — they didn’t,” MacMullan said. “They used to call him ‘Crumbs,’ because he’d have a muffin or something and all the crumbs would spill down his shirt.”
The New York Times wrote that doughnuts were a particular favorite snack of the general manager’s — the flakes from the doughnut would stick on his face and shirt, and the name stuck. “Crumbs” was not meant to be an endearing nickname, but rather yet another example of how players — Jordan, in particular — despised everything about Krause. In the documentary, there are plenty of snide comments and toward the former general manager. Jordan is seen mocking Krause’s physical appearance, asking him in front of everyone, “Are those the pills you take to keep you short or are those diet pills?” Then there was the time Jordan joked that they’d have to lower the rim for Krause if he wanted to join them in the layup line during pre-game warm ups.
During that last Bulls’ championship run in 1998, Krause wanted to tear the team down and rebuild. Obviously, this did not go over well with Jackson, Jordan, Pippen and others, further leading to more bad blood between the general manager and the team he was in charge of. After Jordan left the organization in 1999, the Bulls could never hit the same heights of success again. Krause, facing immense pressure from fans and media, resigned from his post. But, as the first two episodes of “The Last Dance” showed, the stories of his missteps continue to be told.