Judging by the first episode, “The Last Dance’’ is going to be equal parts Michael Jordan celebration and Jerry Krause wedgie. Can you give a deceased man a wedgie? Apparently.
At this particular moment, it’s unfair to ask who the biggest villain is in Chicago sports history. The jury already has been contaminated by the start of ESPN’s 10-part series on the 1997-98 Bulls season, the last of Jordan’s six NBA titles. It’s like a lawyer’s leading question to someone on the stand: “Would you say the accused had murder in his heart even as a child?”
But with or without “The Last Dance,’’ Krause, the secretive, needy former Bulls general manager, would finish at the top of any poll asking fans to name the most villainous figure of all time in these parts. He broke up the Jordan Bulls, and for that, he was rightly consigned to infamy. Before the 1997-98 season, he announced it would be Phil Jackson’s last as Bulls coach, setting in motion Jordan’s second retirement and the breakup of a dynasty.
Nobody’s reputation recovers from that kind of hit, and Krause’s certainly didn’t.
He chose Tim Floyd and a rebuild over the very popular Jackson and the very good likelihood of a seventh NBA title with Jordan. That takes an enormous amount of dastardliness and one very large black hat.
It was easy to dislike Krause even before that, and Bulls players certainly did. He was suspicious of people and craved credit, a very bad combination. Whether he uttered the notorious words that “players and coaches don’t win championships, organizations do,’’ the quote stuck to him like tree sap. It sounded like something he would say. That was enough.
Was the criticism always fair? No, it wasn’t. He did indeed help build the dynasty, but when the cornerstone is Jordan, you don’t need to be a licensed architect. The perception is that you just need to be breathing. Still, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc were the result of Krause’s inspiration. But Jordan ruled, and if Michael told the world that Krause was a toad, then the world believed that Krause was a toad.
The late GM wasn’t alone, however. He has some competition for Biggest Villain:
The former Bears quarterback was up and down as a player and, worse, one big sneer of a person. It was not the way to get on the good side of fans, who might have been able to take one or the other failing, but not both.
Cutler’s sourness became a source of extreme public frustration and the subject of many memes. He softened a bit toward the end of his eight-year stay in Chicago, but his play never moved beyond inconsistent. Nevertheless, he parlayed an all-around lack of wonderfulness into a seven-year, $126 million contract extension, with $54 million guaranteed. You can’t teach that.
The McCaskey family
If Cutler is a symptom of the Bears’ long-running problems, the McCaskeys are the cause.
They just can’t seem to get it right, can they? The 1985 championship was the work of the people who came before them. What has happened since, a lot of nothing, falls directly on the McCaskeys. They have hired the wrong front-office people, who have chosen the wrong coaches and the wrong players. That’s how you get Mitch Trubisky.
After winning the World Series in 2016, the first by the Cubs in 108 years, the team’s chairman was on top of the world. How is it that he finds his name on the villain list?
Let us count the ways: his billionaire father’s racist emails, the franchise’s obsession with making as much money off the championship (and fans) as possible and Ricketts’ unwillingness to spend money on free agents this offseason.
Having won a World Series, he can’t be as bad as the McCaskeys. But it says something about him that he has gained some ground on them in the last four years.
The late Blackhawks owner spent decades on the bad side of fans. He wouldn’t put Hawks home games on television, believing it was unfair to season-ticket holders. His cheapness earned him the nickname “Dollar Bill.’’ During a moment of silence at the United Center to honor Wirtz, who had died in September 2007, many Hawks fans booed.
That’s cold as ice. What could bring on such a chill?
For a long time, the chairman of the White Sox and Bulls was not well-liked in Chicago. That had to do with what was considered his stingy ways, his lack of success with the Sox and his threat to move the franchise to Florida unless he got a new ballpark. And when that ballpark was unveiled to the public, it was panned.
Six NBA championships and a 2005 World Series title softened a lot of the hard edges. But his loyalty to employees who had lost the right to it, including Krause and his successor, John Paxson, has been a constant irritant for Bulls and Sox fans alike.
Never mind the steroid thing, though that seems like a large “never mind.’’ Performance-enhancing-drug rumors fueled much of the hatred toward the Cubs slugger, though many people enjoyed watching the show with their heads in the sand.
What sealed his place on this list was his 2004 walkout on teammates. He left Wrigley Field 15 minutes into the Cubs’ regular-season finale. In response, an angry teammate smashed Sosa’s boom box. His reputation in Chicago ended up in pieces, too.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some worthy villains. I’m also sure you’ll let me know.