Winter wants Krause, Jackson to make up

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – As a baseball scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks now, Jerry Krause found himself traveling the Plains and made his way to Manhattan, Kan., this spring to see the brightest mind he had ever known in basketball. Tex Winter was stranded in a wheelchair, a stroke leaving him unable to hold the kind of conversation they used to have for hours in small college gymnasiums, greasy-spoon diners, hotel lobbies and corridors of the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility.

Finally, Winter, the architect of the triangle offense, goes into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week as a contributor to the game. He’s 89 years old, failing and unable to give his own acceptance speech on Friday night. Nevertheless, Winter did express to Krause one wish for enshrinement weekend. Winter wants the two men to whom he’s most indebted – Krause and Phil Jackson – to rise above years of acrimony and simply shake hands. It’s been a long time, too long, and Krause will grudgingly do it for a simple reason.

Tex Winter brought the triangle offense to the Bulls and Lakers as an assistant coach.
(Getty Images)

“For Tex, I would jump off a building,” Krause told Yahoo! Sports. “I’ve seen Phil walking down the opposite side of the hallway, and I’ve kept right on going past him. I’ve never stopped. But for Tex, yeah … I’ll do it.”

As they turned Krause into a punch line through the years, Jackson and Michael Jordan forgot something about the man. Krause had the vision to bring everyone together, to make those Bulls the greatest dynasty of modern times.

Krause was right: Organizations do play an immense part in winning championships. No one does it alone. Those words were twisted on him, like so much of the way the people clutching for credit on those Bulls twisted Krause’s legacy. All those years that Krause so relentlessly pushed for Winter’s inclusion into the Hall, no one was ever so grateful, so loyal, to Krause to do the same for him.

Yes, Krause inherited Jordan, but what he did to discover the most successful head coach, assistant, system, sidekick and supporting cast for six championships over two distinctly different eras is unmatched in history. As a scout with the Baltimore Bullets, he has the drafting of Earl Monroe and Jerry Sloan on his rèsumè. Krause has never even made the ballot for the Hall of Fame. There should never be another executive who goes into the Hall of Fame before him. Ever.

[* Yahoo! Sports Radio: Why isn’t Krause in?]

Krause plucked Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant out of the 1987 draft to go with Jordan, traded Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright, and carefully surrounded Jordan with the proper pieces to complement him and the triangle offense.

As soon as Krause was hired as general manager in 1985, he hired Winter as an assistant coach. He wanted him to work with his big men, because he knew that Jordan would make it impossible for them to ever draft high enough to get the good ones. Someday, too, Krause thought the triangle could be transcendent in the NBA. He hired Jackson out of the Continental Basketball Association as an assistant to Doug Collins, when Jackson feared he could be driving team vans back and forth to Maine forever.

“No one wanted to hire him,” Krause said. “He would’ve gone home and been a lawyer in North Dakota.”

Jackson and Winter became fast friends, inseparable, and Krause knew that if he made Jackson, a student of defense, his head coach, he would implement the triangle and be the man to sell Jordan on its benefits.

Former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson saw their relationship begin to deteriorate, in part, over contract negotiations.
(AP photo)

“I’ve always said, “Phil was a great coach on very good teams,” Krause said. “When I hired him, I told him, ‘I’ve hired you to win in the next couple years, and if you don’t, you’re gone.’ The team was ready to win. It wasn’t a very popular move to let Collins go, and I told Phil, ‘I’m putting my rear end out there for you.’ Everyone with a typewriter and a microphone in Chicago criticized the hell out of me. ‘That idiot fired Collins, after winning [47] games and getting to the Eastern Finals?’ I got crucified in Chicago for it.

“Michael was resistant, but Michael was also very smart. After a while he realized, ‘I can score like hell without working very hard.’ After his second year, he went to Carolina and spent all summer working on post moves. He became the best post man in the NBA, and he played a lot of post for us. In the triangle, you need a finisher. When the shot clock is running down, the play breaks down, and Phil had the two best finishers of all time – Michael and Kobe.”

Krause and Jackson had a solid relationship for most of a decade together, but eventually contract snags and ego created tension that turned into downright spite. Even after Krause remade the Bulls after Jordan’s comeback with Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, Jackson and Jordan still treated him like a punching bag. Jordan had nicknamed him “Crumbs” and viciously rode him in public and private. Jackson and Krause started to clash on money, and eventually Jackson used Krause as an enemy for the Bulls to rally against.

“Who was the easiest guy to blame? The short, fat guy,” Krause said. “He negotiated the contracts. He’s easy to blame. It happened, we were winning, and I didn’t give a damn. Was it fun? No, it wasn’t fun. But I understood what he was doing. I also know where his ego went, but as time passed, I learned a lot more about him, a lot that I didn’t realize, and, oh boy, did that make me never want to talk to him again.”

[Related: Dennis Rodman’s Hall of Fame credentials]

Krause still thinks he did the right thing by holding Michael Jordan out of most of the 1985-86 season after he injured his ankle. Jordan wanted to return.
(AP photo)

Krause never made it easy on himself, because he could be gruff and curt, but he also was relentlessly loyal to the franchise, to winning. He understood the proper players for the triangle offense, for Jordan, and never stopped surrounding him with the components. When Jordan broke his foot in the 1985-86 season, the push and pull with Krause started, and ultimately never stopped. Krause shut him down for most of the regular season, and Jordan, so fierce, wanted to return to the lineup.

“We had five doctors from around the country, put them all on a conference call, and they all agreed he shouldn’t play,” Krause said. “Dean [Smith] never said ‘No,’ to Michael. No one had ever said ‘No,’ to Michael. But I told him, ‘No, you’re not going to play.’ When he was supposed to be rehabbing down at North Carolina, I found out he was playing. I was a young GM, he was as good of a player as there had ever come around, and if we put him on the floor too early and he hurts himself, no one would’ve ever forgiven me. And I wouldn’t have forgiven myself.

“Michael has criticized me a lot through the years, and I’m sure that’s contributed a lot to [his perception]. Anything Michael says, it’s like it’s coming from god. He didn’t help. But I’ll tell you this: If I hadn’t said no to Michael when I did, we might not have ever won. He might have had a wrecked career.

“I think Michael probably thinks differently now, although maybe his ego won’t let him.”

For Krause, this weekend will be about Tex Winter. To him, this is the celebration of an old coach’s genius, an offense that was so hard to defend, so hard to scout. Krause believes it’s gone forever now, because Jackson’s done coaching and his old assistants are no longer in positions where they can teach it.

“The best year we ran it was the year Michael was away playing baseball,” Krause said. “It was a 55-win team without him, and it was a season-long clinic on the triangle. We were so committed to it, just a beautiful thing to watch.

“But when you take on the triangle, you have to have your whole organization geared toward it. It takes a very specific kind of player to play in it. I saw the Minnesota guy [GM David Kahn] hire [Kurt] Rambis, after he took two players in the draft who couldn’t possibly ever run the triangle. I have no idea if Rambis is a good coach or not, but [Kahn] screwed him right off the bat.”

Eventually, Winter left the Bulls to rejoin Jackson with the Lakers, and together they sold Kobe Bryant(notes) on the triangle, the way they did Jordan. Jackson and Winter won three more titles together, until Winter’s advanced age and health forced him into retirement.

Years ago, Krause quit the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee, and vowed to never step into the Hall again until Winter had been inducted. Now, he’s back again, one more legend of the greatest modern NBA dynasty going into Springfield. Dennis Rodman goes too, and that makes all of them now: Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, Winter, Rodman. All but one, all but the man who gave Michael everything he needed: the greatest coach, the greatest system, the greatest sidekick for the greatest player of all.

And when Krause reaches for Jackson’s hand this weekend, that ought to be the end of it. For once, Jackson and Jordan ought to do the right thing and realize that they have the voices to pay back a debt owed to Jerry Krause. Get him on the Hall of Fame ballot finally, and get the architect of it all where he belongs, in Springfield, the forever executive of the NBA’s forever dynasty.

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Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Aug 11, 2011