Former 76ers GM Brad Greenberg reflects on Jerry Krause’s impact on Bulls

Brad Greenberg in October 2012. Credit: NBAE/via GETTY IMAGES

Jerry Krause didn’t draft Michael Jordan in 1984. Rod Thorn, Krause’s predecessor, did.

It turned out to be the best draft decision of the 1980s, giving the Chicago Bulls their franchise cornerstone for six NBA championships in the ’90s.

But three years after Thorn’s history-changing decision, Krause made a pair of shrewd draft-day decisions of his own. The longtime Bulls general manager traded Olden Polynice to the Seattle SuperSonics for Scottie Pippen, the No. 5 pick, and before the momentous day was done he selected Horace Grant with the 10th pick in the 1987 Draft.

Pippen and Grant became fixtures in Chicago’s starting lineup, key players during the club’s first three-peat.

Krause died in March 2017 at age 77.

Reacting to Krause’s death, Pippen tweeted: “He helped me realize the dream of playing in the NBA and more than I ever could’ve imagined. … Jerry and I didn’t always see eye to eye but I knew he just wanted to win. He surrounded MJ and me with the right pieces not once but twice.”

Back in the spotlight

Jerry Krause’s life and legacy are back in the spotlight as “The Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN documentary series about the final season (1997-98) of the Bulls dynasty, which attracts major attention around the world. ESPN aired episodes 3 and 4 on Sunday.

In an interview with Talkbasket.net this week, Brad Greenberg, a former Philadelphia 76ers general manager and vice president of basketball operations, offered some insights about Krause’s basketball acumen and undeniable skills as a talent evaluator.

“Jerry was a scout at heart,” said Greenberg, who has coached the Israeli Basketball Super League’s Maccabi Ashdod since 2017. “Loved trying to find a hidden gem. Liked to be on the road hunting out a player from a smaller school, lesser division … the proverbial sleeper.”

Exhibit A: Pippen (University of Central Arkansas), who’ll forever be linked to Jerry Krause.

Longtime Bulls GM Jerry Krause, who was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, in a 2003 file photo. Credit: Chicago Tribune

Insights on Jerry Krause

Any quick description of “The Last Dance” will label Michael Jordan as the hero and Jerry Krause and the villain. The latter, of course, was contemplating how to wanted to rebuild the Chicago Bulls even as they were two-time defending champions heading into the 1997-98 campaign.

Was Krause misunderstood?

“Yes. You can’t win a popularity contest vs. Michael or Phil (Jackson) and Jerry is partly to blame for this,” said Greenberg, who as Sixers GM selected Allen Iverson No. 1 overall in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft. “But he made a lot of really good decisions for the Bulls.

“From bringing Phil on board to roster moves that helped build their championship teams. One of his nicknames was ‘Sleuth’ and his feeling that scouting info should be protected made him an aloof character and some took that the wrong way … perhaps interpreted as arrogance. But if you got to know him, he was a good guy.

“I got along with him and respected his work ethic. We crossed paths on the road a fair amount and had mutual respect.”

Greenberg praises Krause

Brad Greenberg, now 66, served as a Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach (1984-86), then held the same position with the New York Knicks (1986-87). From 1987 to 1995, he worked in the Portland Trail Blazers front office, coinciding with the rise of the Bulls from mediocrity to title contenders to three-time champions.

In that time span, Greenberg was reminded time after time that Jerry Krause was a good pro basketball team executive.

“The record speaks for itself!” Greenberg declared. “Having the best player in the league sure helped and he was there before him. But he surrounded MJ with the right pieces and he orchestrated Phil eventually becoming the coach surrounding him with great support staff (assistants).

“No denying he was a good exec.”

Interacting with Krause

What was it like dealing with Jerry Krause?

“I got along with Jerry,” said Greenberg, who served as a scout, director of player personnel and vice president of player personnel for Portland.

“While with the Blazers we played them in the (1992) Finals and we crossed paths a lot. I would say we had a solid relationship and probably more so than many others in the league.”

‘Unhappy with his seat location’

In thinking back to the early 1990s, Greenberg recalled that Krause was a stickler for details. He always wanted things done a certain way.

To illustrate that point, the Maccabi Ashdod bench boss provided a classic example.

“During the NBA Finals in Portland versus the Bulls, he had a seat that wasn’t to his liking for a game,” Greenberg said of Jerry Krause. “He was very particular about his seat for games whether at a college arena or pro game. He would often create a bit of a scene if the seats provided for him or other scouts wasn’t conducive to doing the job, especially if we had all traveled a great deal to a location for a college game.

“Upon him being unhappy with his seat location in Portland for a game, I was able to find him a much better seat close to the court and he was most appreciative. It probably helped cement our relationship. He always remembered me helping him. He was particular about things like that.”

Parting thoughts

“I am watching The Last Dance and like (Toni) Kukoc has commented … some of the comments and portrayal of him are ‘small’ and a bit unfair,” Greenberg commented on Jerry Krause. “He made so many strong ‘championship’ decisions. Unfortunately, he will always be the target for how things ended with Phil, etc…”