Viewers of The Last Dance will note that a backstory throughout ESPN’s hit docu-series involves the demise of the Bulls dynasty. Fingers point in a lot of different ways, from owner Jerry Reinsdorf to Coach Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan’s power over the team. Most of the blame, however, tends to fall on Jerry Krause. He was, after all, the Bulls’ general manager. According to NBA legend Charles Barkley, however, this blame is misplaced.
What happened to the Bulls dynasty
In 1998, tensions were already high for the Chicago Bulls. Sure, they were in one of the best teams in the history of professional sports and their impact was reaching a global scale, but they were falling apart. Scottie Pippen caused waves when he sat out for a large chunk of the season after a contract negotiation dispute. Furthermore, Phil Jackson was on the way out after the season.
The 90s bulls, for all their glamour and their glory, were a fragile machine at this point. Between Dennis Rodman’s antics and the scrutiny that came with being Jordan’s team, the ship was sinking. Krause essentially confirmed that he was ready to move on rather than deal with the onslaught of drama, and a villain was born.
Michael Jordan retired at the end of the season, Scottie Pippen set off to Houston, Phil Jackson retired, and Krause and Reinsdorf’s team went from the talk of the town to a perennial loser. As always is the case with sports, however, everyone needed a scapegoat. Krause became the likely candidate due to his job title and mercurial relationship with several members of the team.
What did Charles Barkley have to say about the Bulls?
Barkley saw the ’90s Bulls firsthand. As a member of the Phoenix Suns, he led his team to the 1993 Finals against the Bulls. As a member of Jordan’s draft class, he saw the rise of Jordan multiple times a year. Furthermore, it was his Rockets team that Pippen eventually ran to in the fallout to the situation.
Speaking with Dan Patrick, Barkley talked about The Last Dance. In his mind, the documentary puts undue blame on Jerry Krause, who was simply playing with the hand that he was dealt in Barkley’s mind. When Patrick placed some blame on Krause, Barkley interjected.
“[The fall of the Bulls] was all orchestrated by Jerry Reinsdorf,” Barkley said. “The notion that [Krause] broke up the Bulls is asinine and absurd. If you go back and look, and use common sense… Jerry Reinsdorf broke up the Bulls because he didn’t want to pay anybody. You think about this. He let Horace Grant go because he became a free agent… He only paid Michael the last two years.”
Citing Reinsdorf’s track record, Barkley stated that Krause became the perfect scapegoat for an owner’s frugality.
“When he had Michael at a bargain, he was happy,” Barkley said. “So he didn’t want to pay Michael. He paid him those last two years, and he had Scottie under a great deal. That’s the reason he broke up the bulls — strictly because of money.”
Barkley raised some valid points that put this situation into perspective. While many general managers are given free rein, others are expected to do whatever is in the owner’s interest. If this was the case with Krause, it makes sense that he might get the undue blame. Krause passed away in 2017, so his side of the story is not available.
Who was right?
Krause, Reinsdorf, Jackson, Pippen, Jordan — the fact of the matter is that everyone might have some blame. Jordan might have had too much control, Jackson might have spurred some clashes, Pippen might have wanted too much, and Krause and Reinsdorf might have helped mismanaged the team. Every dynasty eventually comes to an end.
Barkley’s points on this are not some idle speculation by a fan. He was up close and personal with several figures of the Bulls team. He was, by all definitions, a true NBA insider with knowledge above the average fan. Whether or not one lends credence, he showed that there is often a different side to every story. Krause passed away