Despicable Chicago crowd behavior a byproduct of hubris and Michael Jordan's immense popularity and pettiness

It was a shameful scene in Chicago on Friday night for the Bulls' first Ring of Honor ceremony, when fans couldn’t behave themselves on a night that was supposed to commemorate the most glorious era in franchise history.

The late Jerry Krause was always referred to by Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf as “The Architect,” having put together six championship teams in the 1990s. You wouldn’t have known that from the reaction Bulls fans gave his widow at halftime, booing her as she represented him at center court.

Perhaps Bulls fans didn’t know Thelma Krause was actually in attendance. Maybe some Bulls fans didn’t realize Jerry Krause passed away in 2017 at 77. But when his face was shown on the Jumbotron, they showed their resentment toward the former general manager, booing mercilessly, much to the dismay of Thelma Krause.

Luckily, the Bulls players in attendance comforted her, and some of the boos did turn to cheers once some of them realized it was her in his place and not just a random image on the big screen. Rightfully, former Bull and current TV analyst Stacey King went on air after halftime and scolded Bulls fans for their actions. He seemed incredulous it happened in this city, on this night.

Still, though, it points to a fragmented relationship in so many ways — the Bulls players among themselves, namely Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; Jordan’s relationship with Krause; and the fans’ relationship with decision-makers, whom they felt cheated Jordan’s Bulls out of more championships and forced him into retirement and, later, Wizards blue.

Former Chicago Bulls player Ron Harper, back, comforts Thelma Krause, widow of former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, while the crowd boos when his name was announced during a Ring of Honor ceremony for the 1995-96 Bulls team ,during halftime of an NBA basketball game between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors on Friday, Jan 12, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Former Chicago Bulls player Ron Harper comforts Thelma Krause, widow of former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, while the crowd boos as Jerry Krause's name was announced during the Ring of Honor ceremony for the 1995-96 Bulls during halftime Friday, Jan 12, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Jordan and Pippen, predictably, didn’t make the two-day event that started with a private gala Thursday night. Whatever their issues are with each other, be it personal or tabloid-fodder, it likely prevented some uncomfortable moments had the two shown up.

These reunions are supposed to spark nostalgia, fond memories and a general respect for what was accomplished. It’s a feel-good evening, not one where fans need to be chastised for silliness or acting like they have no home training.

Chicago was once the envy of the sports world. It housed the best athlete of his time, perhaps of all time. He was the most charismatic basketball player, the most marketable athlete and, most certainly, the most ruthless, unforgiving competitor.

On Friday, the sports world — a vast place where nobody can hardly agree on anything — agreed Bulls fans' behavior was deplorable.

Jordan might be the most petty athlete to walk the face of the earth, and it might’ve been a contributing factor to why he achieved so much in a time where all of our eyes were fixated on him. Even with all the public knows about him, the bits and pieces that have been doled out through the years or revealed in some way, it craves more because Jordan gave out only crumbs.

Even his flaws have somehow turned into badges of honor through the years, his beefs and feuds causing many of his fanboys to take up his own grievances as their own.

It goes back to a monoculture that cannot be reclaimed, a time where perhaps sports emotions felt more pure and raw rather than filtered and cultivated by PR teams and well-timed social-media blasts.

So because Jordan was petty and held beefs, his followers had no problem doing the same. Make no mistake, Krause wasn’t a beloved figure in Chicago. He wasn’t winning any popularity contests, and he damn sure wasn’t going to win one against Jordan.

It’s said he was socially awkward, a bit brusk and certainly overly suspicious. It’s said he could walk past you and not even know you were there. Hoya Paranoia probably had nothing on Krause.

Players will always get the glory — their sweat equity, their performances will always be front and center, and that should be. Coaches are similarly out front, speaking to the media often daily and being closer to the floor than the front office.

The front office is often in a lose-lose situation. Some will get the credit because they scream from the rooftops that they deserve it — think of a couple of examples in today’s NBA. But more often than not, they’re looked upon as figures whose jobs are easily replaceable by someone on the street.

We’re all expert scouts and talent evaluators, we can all work some magic in the trade machine and build perfect teams. All general managers can do, in the eyes of some, is screw up a championship team, not build one.

But even a figure like Krause, who was often booed during the championship years, should be appreciated with the benefit of time — and Chicago couldn’t even give him that in death. He’s no victim here and he certainly was full of flaws, letting his pride lead the way in telling Phil Jackson he would no longer coach the Bulls after the 1998 season, no matter what happened.

After that, battle lines were drawn more definitively, and Reinsdorf didn’t stop Krause from going too far.

Jordan and Krause had a competitive relationship, with Krause apparently telling Jordan that Elgin Baylor was the greatest player of all time — as if Jordan needed extra motivation. It’s been said both were bullies in their own way — neither giving a quarter to the other. It was documented long before ESPN’s "The Last Dance," specifically in Sam Smith’s best seller, “The Jordan Rules,” which was released in 1991.

The ESPN documentary opened old wounds, it seemed, or revealed pain not many knew existed. Jordan’s popularity dwarfed everyone else’s and probably still does. His greatness isn’t overstated, but perhaps it overshadowed Krause’s smarts in how he formed two very distinct championship eras over the decade.

Trading for Bill Cartwright and sending Charles Oakley packing before the 1989 season wasn’t a popular move in Jordan’s eyes, but it proved to be a good one. Krause cultivating a relationship with an unknown hippie named Phil Jackson and then hiring him after firing Doug Collins bore fruit a little over a year later in 1991, when the Triangle Offense was a catalyst in getting Jordan to dominate while highlighting the rest of his teammates en route to a championship.

The hubris Krause displayed in dismantling the '98 championship team and believing he could make another one without Jordan was the same hubris that enabled him to rebuild the first title teams into the second three-peat champions — picking up Dennis Rodman when Rodman was a Bulls rival and a wild child who was thought to be more trouble than he was worth.

Winning is fragile. One wrong move can screw up team chemistry or alter a championship path. Signing Steve Kerr and getting Ron Harper after his debilitating knee injuries — with Harper turning himself into a solid wing defender — helped the Bulls on the back end of those last three titles.

Of course, it’s easier to do that when you have Jordan in his prime, if not his absolute peak. But as we’ve seen in different iterations of the NBA, merely having the best player doesn’t guarantee anything — it creates a margin for error, to be sure. Consider this: For all of LeBron James’ greatness and longevity, he trails Jordan by two rings and it doesn’t look like he’ll catch him.

Krause couldn’t recreate his magic without Jordan and stepped away from his post in 2003. With the exception of a couple of promising periods, the Bulls haven’t been able to replicate the glory years in the 25 seasons since.

But Krause, in all likelihood, saved Jordan from himself. That '98 team was on fumes, as was displayed in the documentary. Pippen was essentially done being an elite player, and Rodman barely played meaningful basketball after — hell, he was teetering during that season as-is, with his random trip to Las Vegas.

A lockout-shortened 1999 season, when 50 games needed to be squeezed in from Feb. 5 to May 5, would’ve been taxing on an already-fatigued team and unlikely to result in another championship.

Imagine the excuses if the San Antonio Spurs knocked off the Bulls, or if the Knicks or Pacers got to them first.

Jordan wanted to die on his sword, and it’s understandable. There’s something poetic about a champion still being a champion but not holding the crown any more. There’s something artistic about digging deep, but someone else’s will being greater than yours, or merely younger legs running past you. It’s the way the passing of the torch usually happens. It’s what Chicago saw, ironically, in the Golden State Warriors, Friday night's opponent.

The Warriors squeezed out one last title in 2022, in all likelihood, an unexpected one they don’t have to apologize for. But it doesn’t look like they can rev it up and relive those glory days any longer. On a night, sure, they can probably beat anybody. But as presently constituted, with the caveat anything can happen personnel-wise, there are just too many hurdles — both internal and with competition — for them to get back to June.

Perhaps that’s what Bulls fans wanted to see from their group, but given the way they clutch those six championship pearls so tightly, they believe Jordan could conquer all, and that somehow Krause prematurely ended what could’ve been more championships.

It’s doubtful, actually.

Unfortunately, Chicago doesn’t see it that way and couldn’t even give Krause's widow a moment of pride in remembering what her husband did best.

Shameful, indeed.