Michael Jordan and Jerry Krause had a very tense relationship with each other. One would imagine finding incredible championship success while working together would have formed a very positive relationship between the two. But things were always off with the legend and the GM of the Bulls, and they never really saw eye to eye on things. Fans have always wondered when the animosity between the two actually started.
According to Roland Lazenby, the author of Michael Jordan: The Life, their conflict dates back to the early years of Jordan in Chicago. Initially, it was Krause trading MJ's friend Rod Higgins. And after that, things got worse when Krause would seemingly provoke and needle Jordan by comparing him to players of the past like Earl Monroe and Elgin Baylor, players Jordan felt he was better than and trying to surpass.
For all his ambition and insight, Krause quickly erred that first year back in Chicago in that he needlessly alienated Jordan, which would put back their relationship on a negative footing for the next fifteen years. Among the early steps Krause took was the trading of Jordan's best friend on the team. "We traded Rod Higgins," Krause admitted later. "Michael was upset about that."
Krause later reacquired Higgins, only to trade him yet again. It was the kind of move that left observers wondering whether Krause took pride, perhaps even pleasure, in challenging Jordan. In his years of scouting, Krause had studied the game's all-time greats, just as he had put in hours scouting talent at America's traditionally black colleges. Krause was immensely proud of his background, and often expounded to Jordan on the game's greatest players, and on his own scouting credentials.
"I used to needle him," Krause recalled of his early conflict with Jordan. "I used to say, "Someday you might be as good as Earl Monroe. You remind me of Earl and Elgin. You're a combination of Earl Monroe and Elgin Baylor, and you might be as good as both of them someday. Earl did it on the ground. You're doing it in the air, Elgin was the first one to do in the air. You remind me of him." And then every time after that. he'd say, "That f*ckin' Monroe" Then he'd say, "Where'd you take Monroe? Second in the draft? Big f*ckin' deal" I think that whole thing with Michael stems from Earl Monroe"
Bulls employees who happened to witness these exchanges would cringe at Krause's insistence on challenging Jordan. "If you're gonna toss things out towards Michael, they better be true," Tim Hallam explained. "Because he never forgets and he never lets go."
Lazenby spoke to Fadeaway World a few years ago, speaking on the comparisons between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, noting that Michael would have thrived in any era, something he felt Kobe would not have been able to do, despite his greatness.
Krause has spoken in the past about the confidence Michael Jordan had in himself, noting that he knew that he could do things that others simply could not do. Despite the animosity between the two sides, Krause never denied the talent that Jordan possessed, or what he did for the Chicago Bulls.
Clearly, as much as Krause thought comparing MJ to Earl Monroe and Elgin Baylor was a compliment, Jordan did not take kindly to those comparisons. Jordan had respect for the players that came before him, but thought himself to be better than them, and wanted to prove that on the court.
Unsurprisingly, Jordan went on to surpass both Monroe and Baylor in terms of legacy, winning multiple championships, MVPs, and other accolades. But there is no denying that Jordan was able to achieve that success because of the team Jerry Krause built around him.
While it was Krause's work that helped the Chicago Bulls reach the summit of the NBA, it was also his insistence on firing Phil Jackson as head coach and replacing the rest of the roster that led to its downfall. NBA legend Magic Johnson has stated that had Krause not insisted on beginning a rebuild, the Chicago Bulls could have possibly doubled their championship count.