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Jerry Krause's underrated contributions to Bulls dynasty were kept too secret

David Haugh
Chicago Tribune

Following Jerry Krause's covert orders, Will Perdue checked in to his Deerfield hotel under an assumed name when flying in for a workout before the 1988 NBA draft.

It fooled everyone — including Perdue, who stood in the lobby for minutes the next morning before realizing the driver yelling the Polish name was his ride.

"That's why they called Jerry 'The Sleuth,'" Perdue said.

The former Bulls general manager, who died Tuesday at 77, demanded Perdue's pre-draft workout at the old Multiplex health club occur after 10 p.m. so no club members or media types would spot the 7-footer. Lunch came in the back room of a restaurant with the doors closed. Krause wanted so badly to conceal the Bulls' intentions to take the Vanderbilt center in the first round that Perdue still laughs recalling the drive from O'Hare.

"Jerry's assistant, Billy McKinney, picks me up, puts the car phone on speaker when Jerry answered and goes, 'Agent Blue, it's Agent Orange, I picked up the package,'" said Perdue, drafted with the 11th pick Krause had acquired in the Charles Oakley-for-Bill Cartwright trade. "I don't know if 'genius' is the right word, but Jerry was a guy truly dedicated to his profession and would do anything to win. ... And he was always undercover."

Problem was, Krause's greatness always remained too shrouded in secrecy as well.

References to the 1990s dynasty typically include Michael Jordan's Bulls or Phil Jackson's teams. When you hear Krause's role in the six championships, it usually accompanies a snicker. How unjust that Krause died before gaining entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., the most appropriate legacy.

The Blackhawks need to win three more Stanley Cup championships for general manager Stan Bowman to catch up to the six titles the Bulls won during Krause's tenure. The Cubs would have to win three more World Series before President Theo Epstein, a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame, owns as many championship rings as Krause.

Mike Ditka is revered in this city for coaching the Bears to one Super Bowl victory, while Krause, who presided over one of Chicago's proudest sporting decades, fought for respect to his dying day. Hope that death will be fairer to Krause than life was, in terms of perception.

"Perception and reality are two different things," Perdue said.

Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement: "He truly was the architect of all our great teams in the '90s. I would not have been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame if it were not for Jerry."

Reinsdorf is right. Krause discovered Scottie Pippen at Central Arkansas and drafted Horace Grant instead of North Carolina's Joe Wolf, listening to Bulls coaches over his gut. He brought Jackson to Chicago from the CBA, replacing Doug Collins. He made his share of misjudgments as GM from 1985 to 2003, such as drafting Brad Sellers and hiring Tim Floyd, but the good outweighed the bad for a guy too easily overshadowed. He had a knack for finding complementary pieces, from Bill Cartwright and Dennis Rodman to Bobby Hansen and Steve Kerr.

"He didn't just go out to get the best players; he got guys he felt could fit into the team atmosphere and wouldn't be a distraction," said Perdue, one of those guys.

If Krause had been 6-foot-2, lean and ruggedly handsome, perhaps he would be cast in bronze outside the United Center. Instead, Krause's portly, often disheveled appearance made him an easy target for ridicule, the worst when Jordan nicknamed him "Crumbs." Jackson's constant jabs didn't help either.

Eloquence eluded the socially awkward Krause, whose gruff style diverted focus from his substance. Every compliment of Krause's job as Bulls GM comes with a disclaimer — "He inherited Michael Jordan" — yet Jackson's enduring status as one of the NBA's all-time great coaches seldom receives the same scrutiny despite having either Jordan or Kobe Bryant on each of his 11 championship teams.

Organizations indeed win championships, as Krause famously once said, and the Bulls wouldn't have been the same championship organization for a decade of dominance without the man whose fascinating career intertwined with names nobody has to Google.

Krause worked for Bill Veeck, who hired him as the White Sox chief scout, and Arthur Wirtz, who forced his resignation as Bulls player personnel director for discussing the coaching job with DePaul legend Ray Meyer. Outside Chicago, Krause contributed to drafting future Hall of Famers Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld with the Baltimore Bullets and once called late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner boss.

He ran a Portland minor-league baseball team that included a prospect named Lou Piniella. He met White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams when he was scouting the 17-year-old prospect in San Jose, Calif., and later served as such a mentor that Williams told reporters Tuesday in Arizona that Krause really "had a hand in seven championships" — referring to the 2005 World Series title.

Williams had a point; without Krause, former Sox manager and longtime shortstop Ozzie Guillen never might have ended up on the South Side. It was Krause's recommendation of Guillen to then-GM Roland Hemond that compelled the Sox to deal LaMarr Hoyt for the 21-year-old Venezuelan on Dec. 6, 1984. Krause's notes on Guillen read: "He's as smart as any young player I've ever seen."

Guillen never forgot, insisting on the day the Sox introduced him as manager in 2004 that Krause attend the news conference.

"He believed in me when not many did," Guillen tweeted Tuesday. "His response was, I don't give a (darn), he can play."

Similar gratitude came from Bulls executive vice president John Paxson, who replaced Krause in 2003 — 18 years after they met.

"I owe a lot to Jerry," Paxson said.

In 1985, Paxson was a free agent after two disappointing seasons with the Spurs when Krause listened to buddy Roger Valdiserri, the former Notre Dame sports information director, who suggested signing the sharpshooter who helped the Bulls win their first three NBA titles.

Those were the early days when Krause relished taking risks. Reinsdorf once told a funny story to illustrate how Krause constantly tried finding creative ways to revive the Bulls. But a pre-dynasty proposal to trade Jordan for "enough players to win a title" went too far, and Reinsdorf let him know it.

"I said, 'Well, if you trade Michael Jordan and we win a championship, you will be executive of the year but you will accept the award posthumously,'" Reinsdorf kidded.

It's overdue, but, posthumously, Krause deserves to be finally voted into the Naismith Hall of Fame next month — on a secret ballot, of course.

dhaugh@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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