During his time on the hardwood, Michael Jordan had no problem making his feeling known. His Airness, after all, was the man who punched Steve Kerr in practice, called his own teammate a loser, and compared Reggie Miller’s defense to “chicken-fighting a woman.” Then, in a category of his own, sat Jerry Krause.
While it was no secret that Jordan and the Bulls general manager didn’t see eye-to-eye, their rocky relationship apparently dated back to a single moment. During the 1985 NBA campaign, MJ lost his innocence thanks to a single comment from the man he later called “Crumbs.”
Michael Jordan arrived on the NBA scene and quickly made a name for himself
These days, it’s impossible to imagine His Airness as anything other than a fully-formed basketball deity. In reality, though, that wasn’t always the case.
That’s not to say that Jordan wasn’t a talented athlete. Although the commonly told story explains that he was cut from the high school varsity basketball team, he was actually sent to the JV squad because of his size. MJ made varsity the following season and, by the time he graduated, had become a McDonald’s All-American.
In college, Jordan continued his upward trajectory. While head coach Dean Smith noted that His Airness was a bit inconsistent as a freshman, his talent shone through. He nailed the game-winning shot to seal an NCAA title during his first year on campus, claimed First-Team All-American honors on two separate occasions, and earned two College Player of the Year titles in 1984 before entering that year’s NBA draft.
Even though he famously slipped to the third overall pick, Jordan didn’t waste any time making an impact with the Bulls. He averaged 28.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per outing during his first professional season, cruising to the Rookie of the Year crown.
Jerry Krause changes everything with a single comment
While Jordan enjoyed a phenomenal rookie year, he suffered a setback the following campaign. The sophomore broke his foot a few in the Bulls’ third game, sidelining him for most of that campaign.
Being the fierce competitor that he was, MJ wanted to play through the pain. As we saw during The Last Dance, though, doctors were concerned that he had a minor chance of ruining his career. The Bulls’ caution won out, and Jordan only returned for a handful of games at the end of the season.
“I’m the only one who has told him no,” general manager Jerry Krause told Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander in 1993. “When he had the broken foot back in 1985, I told him he couldn’t play. … This kid has had his butt kissed by everybody in the world except his parents and me. If we listened to him, we’d have [former Tar Heel guard] Buzz Peterson on the team! My goal is not to be his friend. My goal is to win titles.”
While Krause’s comments seem fairly reasonable, if a bit heavy-handed, they still changed Jordan’s perspective on the game of basketball.
Jordan remembers well that day seven years ago when Krause told him he couldn’t play, Telander explained. For Jordan, it wasn’t just what Krause said, it was also the way he said it—coldly. He said, ‘You’re Bulls property now, and we tell you what to do.’ I was a young, enthusiastic kid, and that just made me realize this was a business, not a game. We never hit it off after that.’Rick Telander in Sports Illustrated
As MJ noted, that moment changed everything.
Michael Jordan kept needling Jerry Krause from then on
During The Last Dance, Jordan displayed his ability to take anything personally. Krause expereience that reality first hand.
As a member of the Bulls, His Airness didn’t hide his dislike of the general manager. He nicknamed Krause “Crumbs,” as he apparently had donut crumbs clinging to the front of his jacket, and openly mocked the executive. Jordan poked a public hole in Krause’s decision to draft Earl Monroe, which he held as a point of pride.
Even in retirement, MJ didn’t let the grudge die. During his 2009 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Jordan told the assembled crowd that he didn’t invite Krause to be present. In reality, the general manager chose to boycott the ceremony to call attention to the fact that Tex Winter, the man who invented the triangle offense, hadn’t earned a place in Springfield. That detail, however, didn’t matter to His Airness, and he still made his old foe the butt of one last joke.
Whether you’re a rival player, a teammate, or even an NBA executive, crossing Jordan wasn’t a wise idea.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference