Michael Jordan took zero games off during the Bulls’ second three-peat — 82 games every season, plus playoffs. All while carrying an insane load on both ends of the floor.
That happened in part because Jordan was a physical freak of nature. In part it was his work ethic to be in top shape. Part of it was luck (no sprained ankles because he landed on someone’s foot).
Jerry Krause also believes the health of Jordan and other Bulls through that run was due to Al Vermeil, the Bulls’ longtime strength and conditioning coach. Which is one of the things Krause said he meant when he said, “Players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations do.”
K.C. Johnson at NBC Sports Chicago got access to and can publish select excerpts of Krause’s unpublished and unfinished memoir. This is the one where he credits Al Vermeil (he was the brother of NFL coach Dick Vermeil):
He was able to help veteran players stretch their careers—among them Dave Corzine, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, Steve Kerr and others. He helped skinny draftees like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and, with their work ethics, made them stronger and quicker. He got players to believe that strength and conditioning work could win championships and make them a lot of money, helped to convince players to stay in Chicago most of the offseason and work as a unit to get better and stronger.
From the 1986-87 season to our last title run in 1998, we had few major injuries. Phil (Jackson) was a factor in that too because he had an uncanny ability to see a guy needed a day or two off or his minutes reduced at times during the season. And I’m not going to tell you that MJ (Michael Jordan) was among Al’s wonders because he was not. The greatest athlete in the world, with more stamina than any athlete I’ve ever seen, worked in his own way privately to gain bulk. Later he hired a personal trainer [Tim Grover] to help guide him…
Al was extremely introspective, a great family man, a guy who a player could confide in and who I could throw ideas at and get sound answers. He was much more than a strength and conditioning coach. When I got ripped for saying, ‘Players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations do ‘—–he was one of the people I was talking about.
This is Krause’s spin, and his memoir was written in part to set the record straight from his perspective. Krause had plenty of bitterness. As he told “Michael Jordan: The Life” author Roland Lazenby, in a story relayed on our recent PBT Podcast with the author about those Bulls, Krause had the videotapes of all the old Bulls championships but he refused to go back and watch them.
Of course, with Jordan having the right to greenlight The Last Dance, the takes in it are his perspective and spin.
Krause seemed to believe that if you have a strong organization — in terms of training staff, scouting, coaching — that would bring wins and rings. Organization matters, however, that alone can only get a team so far. In the end, to win big and consistently in the NBA — to win a ring — takes at least one Top 10 (give or take) NBA talent had a few in the top 25. Talent wins out in the NBA. As good as the Bulls organization may have been, they lucked into Jordan and without him this is a nice team, nothing more. There are plenty of well run NBA organizations that have been consistently good but not able to luck into that elite player who takes them to another level.
That shouldn’t diminish the work Vermeil did in Chicago.