There is dichotomy that naturally comes with any sort of memorialization for Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls for nearly 20 years and who died earlier this week. Krause didn’t draft Michael Jordan, but it was primarily through his efforts that the Bulls won six NBA titles, dominating the 1990s with players like Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, and Toni Kukoc, among others; Krause was the architect behind the signing and drafting of those players, and without his efforts, who knows if we would even consider Jordan the GOAT.
But there was another side to Krause: a vindictive, paranoid, and often times spiteful individual who constantly sought to prove that he was always the smartest person in the room (regardless of whether the room meant the NBA or sports in general). A sign hung above his office in the Bulls’ former practice facility: “Hear all, see all, say nothing.” The quote was long unattributed until a 1993 profile of Krause by Rick Telander in Sports Illustrated outed the source as the head of intelligence for Nazi Germany, but that level of surveillance was pervasive to the Bulls during Krause’s tenure. It was, in his mind, how the team was so successful.
Krause was a Billy Beane-type figure who trusted the eye test—and most importantly, his eye test—to help find players that others have overlooked or had mistakenly bypassed. When he first saw Pippen, a lanky guard-forward hybrid who came to redefine the small forward, at the pre-draft Portsmouth Invitation Tournament in 1987, Krause couldn’t contain his glee of finding the senior first, whispering furiously to a Bulls’ scout, ‘There he is!’
But Krause was also a tragic figure. Famously overweight, he was mocked by many in the Chicago media as well as those on the Bulls’ roster or front office for his appearance; Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf once offered him a bonus of $50,000 to lose 50 pounds and keep it off for an entire year. He wasn’t a saint by any means, but there always seemed to be a dig—figurative or direct—just around the next bend at every moment of his life.
Though Krause participated for Telander’s piece, it’s clear the GM didn’t want to reveal any details that could help the competition.
Krause gestures at his only window, which opens not to the outdoors but to the sacred basketball court below. “This is like an intelligence agency,” he says. “If it’s not, you’re not doing your job right. It’s an inexact science you’re trying to make exact. My scouts never talk to other scouts about players. That’s a rule!”
But why the secrecy about things that hardly matter? Why, for instance, treat the fact that forward Joe Courtney is being brought up from the CBA Sioux Falls Skyforce on a 10-day contract to replace the injured Scott Williams as though it is a matter of national security?
Krause quickly launches into a tale of how a Chicago Cub scout once told a Cincinnati Red scout about a little-known, unpolished prospect, a catcher somewhere out in the boondocks who was subsequently drafted by the Reds. The catcher was Johnny Bench. “That changed the course of history,” Krause says, somberly, “it I’d said anything about Scottie Pippen before the 1987 draft, I never would have been able to make the trade with the Seattle SuperSonics that got him here.”