Monday, Aug. 3, 2020

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‘The Last Dance’ & Minnesota Connections


For me there is a Minnesota connection to the story of the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls team that is back in the news because of the “The Last Dance” series on ESPN that began April 19 with the first of 10 episodes.

So far the series portrays general manager Jerry Krause as the organization’s bad guy for telling the public before the season that Phil Jackson would be out as coach by the spring of 1998, and for taking a miserly stance on compensation for gifted forward Scottie Pippen. Indeed, Krause was a character. I learned that first-hand in the late 1980s when playing the lead role in arranging an exhibition game at Met Center with the Bulls featuring a young Michael Jordan who Larry Bird had already described as “god” in sneakers.

Krause was aloof that long ago night and certainly didn’t win any personality competitions. Near tipoff time in the basement of the Met he made it known the Bulls wouldn’t be taking the floor without a check for their exhibition game guarantee. The demand to show him the money first was unexpected because the Met was accustomed to settling with promoters after the event, but we paid up and the game went on as scheduled.

Not many viewers of “The Last Dance” know Krause’s early background. H was a part-time sportswriter for the Peoria Journal Star while in college at Bradley. Later he became both a pro basketball and baseball scout including for the MLB Chicago White Sox owned by Jerry Reinsdorf. In 1985 he became general manager of the Bulls, convincing Reinsdorf, who owned both Chicago teams, that he could excel in leading the NBA franchise that had never won a championship.

Krause, who died in 2017, was the team’s GM until 2003, playing a major role in the Bulls winning six NBA titles. A short roly-poly man who loved eating doughnuts and was disparagingly nicknamed “Crumbs,” Krause proved more than capable of the faith Reinsdorf placed in him. It was Krause at the top of the organizational pyramid who dealt with Jordan’s considerable talents and ego, and had to put the right supporting cast around him. The biggest piece Krause ever added was discovering Pippen at a small school, a prospect few knew about, but a player who developed into a superstar to complement Jordan. Jackson was a minor league basketball coach until Krause saw his potential and made him an assistant with the Bulls and later head coach.

While Krause receives criticism for some foolish decisions in banishing Jackson and not paying Pippen what he deserved, it seems the role of Reinsdorf is forgotten. Why was the owner silent when it seemed Krause went off the rails?

The fourth episode in the series shown last Sunday referenced assistant general manager Jim Stack. Later general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Stack persuaded Krause to acquire bad boy Dennis Rodman. Krause listened and brought the erratic Rodman to Chicago where his rebounding and defense were the final piece needed for NBA titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Rodman created another Minnesota link in a game against the Timberwolves at Target Center after he fell out of bounds near the baseline. A camera was pointed toward Rodman and he wasn’t pleased (to say the least)—and then he kicked the cameraman in the groin.

So far during “The Last Dance” series there has been no mention of the bad boy’s deed.

Worth Noting

Eric Musselman, who some Gophers fans wanted as head basketball coach a year ago, has the No. 6 ranked national recruiting class for 2020, according to 247Sports. Musselman, whose dad Bill Musselman coached the Gophers in the 1970s, finished his first season at Arkansas this winter after turning Nevada into a top 20 program.

Michigan, at No. 9, is the highest ranked Big Ten school in the rankings that with recruiting all but done at most schools won’t change much between now and next fall. Illinois is No. 14 nationally, and No. 2 in the Big Ten, Indiana No. 23 and No. 3, and Wisconsin is No. 24 and No. 4. The Wisconsin class includes two incoming freshmen from Minnesota, four-star Ben Carlson and three-star Steven Crowl.

Richard Pitino

The Gophers chose to scholarship just two freshmen for their 2020 class, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell. Both are four-star players, per 247, with the website ranking Minnesota’s recruiting class No. 59 in the nation and No. 8 in the Big Ten. Since becoming Minnesota’s head coach in 2014, Richard Pitino has struggled to land players from the state, with Amir Coffey and Daniel Oturu the only local four-star players to become Gophers.

Before the NFL Draft last week it looked like safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and tight end Thaddeus Moss could become part of a small group of sons of famous pro football dads that were selected in the same draft. Didn’t happen, though, because while the Gophers’ Winfield was chosen by Tampa Bay in the second round, LSU’s Moss wasn’t selected in the draft’s seven rounds and has signed with Washington as a free agent. Moss is the son of former Viking great Randy Moss.

After the draft, made odds this week that seven other teams are more likely to win the NFC championship than the Vikings. The Saints, 49ers, Bucs, Cowboys, Eagles, Seahawks and Packers are all ahead of the Vikings.

The Ravens and 12 other teams had more favorable odds than the Vikings to win the 2021 Super Bowl.

The CORES meeting for Thursday, May 14 at the Bloomington Event Center, featuring Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle, has been cancelled. More information about CORES is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, (CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans).

It was 64 years ago last Friday that the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers opened the corn field-turned into a ballpark, Metropolitan Stadium. The facility was similar to Milwaukee’s County Stadium and was built to lure a MLB team to the area. The Washington Senators arrived after the 1960 AL season and became the Twins. Metropolitan Stadium cost less than $10 million to build and was financed through revenue bonds issued by Minneapolis, Bloomington and Richfield.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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