Nothing lasts forever, but it doesn’t mean that you have to voluntarily screw it up.
In the first installment of the much-anticipated documentary The Last Dance that chronicles Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, we get a full view of how former general manager Jerry Krause built, and destroyed, the greatest team of all time.
It’s as if Krause never read the book of Proverbs, because if he had, he would have been familiar with a popular line of scripture from the 18th verse in the 16th chapter.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
When you look back at NBA history, the Bulls dynasty ended in a way that always felt incomplete. And Sunday night, we finally got to understand why.
Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers got old. Shaq and Kobe’s beefs ended their run. The Heat ran out of gas. And the Warriors were hurt.
But the Bulls?
They ended because Krause wanted them to.
“Players and coaches alone don’t win championships. Organizations do,” says Krause in the film during an old interview. Krause passed away in 2017 and wasn’t able to participate in the documentary.
Can you imagine an NBA GM that was running a team trying to win their sixth title in eight years saying that in 2020, when his team featured Jordan and Scottie Pippen and was coached by Phil Jackson?
“We are entitled to defend what we have until we lose it. If we lose it, then you look at it and you say, ‘OK, let’s change.’ Rebuilding? No one is guaranteeing rebuilding is going to be two or three or four or five years. The Cubs have been rebuilding for 42 years,” said Jordan during a post-game press conference minutes after the Bulls won their fifth title. “If you wanna look at this thing as a business thing? Have a sense of respect for the people who have laid the groundwork so that you can be a profitable organization.”
The treatment of Jackson and Pippen by Krause is what ultimately ended the Bulls, especially when it was revealed that Krause was publicly courting Tim Floyd as the team’s new coach after telling Jackson to his face that the 1997-1998 season would be his last, even if he went undefeated.
A man that has won 11 championships as a coach, and two more as a player, was disrespected for the likes of Tim Floyd, a guy with a 90-231 record as an NBA coach.
“He couldn’t get out of his own way,” said Steve Kerr of Krause.
But the belittlement of Pippen that was examined in Part 2 of Sunday’s night premiere shed light on why one of the 50 greatest players of all time so rarely gets his proper placement in history.
“Whenever they speak Michael Jordan they should speak Scottie Pippen,” said Jordan, as he went on to describe Pippen as his best teammate of all time.
During that time, Pippen ranked second in points, rebounds, and minutes with the Bulls, while being first in steals and assists. He had the sixth-highest salary on the team, making him the 122nd highest-paid player in the league due to him signing a seven-year deal in 1991 that was only worth $18 million that the Bulls’ front office refused to renegotiate.
During that season, Jordan made over $33 million while Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, and Dennis Rodman all made over $4.5 million. Luc Longley even made $409,900 more than Pippen. It’s no wonder the episode ended with footage of Pippen demanding a trade during the season.
In a time in which conversations are often about subpar players being overpaid, Sunday was a reminder that just 23 years ago, one of the very best that’s ever picked up a basketball was barely making more than what the minimum that veterans can make today.
The film was also a lesson in karma.
Since that final 1997-1998 season, the Bulls haven’t been back to the Finals. They were bad before Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson got there, and have only been above mediocre a few times since they left, as a 2011 Eastern Conference finals appearance has been their peak. Chicago hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017 and hasn’t won a series since 2015.
Earlier this month, the Bulls fired Gar Forman from his role as GM and moved John Paxson into an advisory role to make room for Arturas Karnisovas who will serve as vice president of basketball operations. There have been reports that Karnisovas is looking to hire a “person of color” as his new GM.
But as badly as the NBA needs more diversity in its front offices, on Sunday we learned that the only color that can fix the Bulls is green.
Krause’s decisions to be cheap are what got Chicago here in the first place, so it makes sense that the franchise is now relying on money to solve their issues, especially since “players and coaches alone don’t win championships. Organizations do.”