Rozner: Why Jordan and the Chicago Bulls didn't run it back

  • Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan watch as Scottie Pippen's jersey is retired in 2005 during a halftime ceremony at Bulls-Lakers game at the United Center.

      Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan watch as Scottie Pippen's jersey is retired in 2005 during a halftime ceremony at Bulls-Lakers game at the United Center. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Stack, former Bulls assistant general manager

    Jim Stack, former Bulls assistant general manager

 
 
Updated 5/18/2020 5:22 PM

As suspected, "The Last Dance" concluded with some significant parting shots at Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause.

It had to be that way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For two decades, the narrative has been that they were entirely responsible for breaking up the Bulls' dynasty and heaping misery upon millions of Michael Jordan worshippers.

So no shock that it concluded the way it did.

The ESPN series did nothing to quiet the anger or lend much context to a layered and complicated formula, populated by some of the biggest egos ever collected in one building at one time.

What Reinsdorf and Krause were mostly responsible for was being unable to manage the media and the fan base. They were terrible at it, and it cost them dearly.

Krause, in particular, was his own worst enemy.

As for the notion of going for another title in 1999 in a shortened NBA season, let's assume they weren't old, exhausted and injured and that the free agents on the roster would return on one-year deals.

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You would be foolish under those circumstances to bet against the greatest player who ever lived. He was too mentally tough. He would not let them lose.

But a huge problem was that Scottie Pippen needed a long-term deal and needed to get paid. An even bigger problem was Phil Jackson.

"Phil had a lot going on in his life and he was the one who was done. He was the one who decided he wasn't coming back before that last season. He said he needed a sabbatical," says Jim Stack, the assistant GM to Krause during that Bulls run. "Jerry Reinsdorf kept that door open and tried to get Phil to consider it.

"What bothers me is Phil put Michael in that position of saying he'd never play for another coach, but Michael never went to Phil and asked him to come back for one more.

"I mean, if you have Michael in a room with Phil and Scottie and he asks them to do it again, would they have denied him? I have a hard time seeing that."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There is plenty of blame to go around, from Reinsdorf to Krause to Jackson to Jordan to Pippen.

They all made mistakes.

Maybe if Krause -- with all of his insecurities and thirst for credit -- could have avoided stepping in it publicly so consistently, much of it could have been avoided.

Nevertheless, Jordan says now he wanted to run it back. Jackson said no chance. And Pippen made it clear he wasn't signing a one-year deal and desperately wanted out.

Thing is, we'll never know what might have happened. The three of them never got together and discussed it because Jackson got on his motorcycle and headed for Montana.

That was it. That was the end. Dance over.

"Phil was shrewd," Stack said Monday as he pondered again the summer of 1998. "He was the maestro and he played everyone. He was the guy behind the curtain pulling the strings, even if those guys didn't always know it.

"I just think after all Michael did for everyone involved that if Michael had asked Phil for one more year, I don't see how he could have said no to him.

"Scottie is another story. He wanted to get paid and he deserved to get paid. Again, what if Michael asked him for one more year? No one could have blamed Scottie for wanting what he wanted."

The fact is, despite all the hatred, regardless of who said what and when, and understanding it was an exhausting soap opera for all involved, it was still Jackson who rode off into the sunset, refusing to consider one more season.

That stopped any conversation about a seventh title.

Of course, he couldn't do it without a final backhanded shot at Krause, saying it wouldn't be fair to Krause, that he should be allowed his dream of rebuilding the Bulls. That was classic Jackson, knowing without Jordan and starting from scratch, and with public opinion 100 percent against the GM, the Bulls would be headed for a dark time.

And there was no chance Jackson would have offered Jordan absolution, releasing him from his promise and suggesting Jordan should play one more year, even if it was for a new coach. Jackson couldn't risk seeing the Bulls win without him.

"Phil was a brilliant coach, but he was a smart guy in many ways and he was strategic in everything he did," Stack said. "He engineered that scenario and when things were misconstrued or portrayed unfairly, or flat out wrong, he just played it up and used it to his advantage.

"And, of course, Jerry (Krause) couldn't help himself, saying things he shouldn't have said, or saying them wrong. He got himself into trouble over and over and over again when he should have said nothing at all. That made it very hard."

But it doesn't change the fact that Jackson walked away and took with him any chance of one more run.

"That's what happened," Stack said. "You can spin it any way you want to. You can talk about all the mistakes that were made and all the dumb things that were said, and on and on and on.

"Obviously, a lot of things contributed to the ending, and there were a lot of things that led us to that moment. It would take hours to explain all of it."

Sounds like there's a good book in there.

"Maybe," Stack chuckled. "But in the end, Phil went home and Michael never put him on the spot. He never asked him for something in return for all Michael did for him.

"So we'll never know if that team had one more title in it. It would have been tough for a lot of reasons, but when you have No. 23 wanting another one, good luck stopping him.

"It would have been amazing to see one more playoff run."

They could have called it, "The Last Dance ... Maybe."

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