How Jerry Krause Changed My Life: Part I
I may be one of the world’s dozen Clippers fans, but I didn’t always root for the ugly ducklings of the NBA. Once upon a time I, along with 73-percent of America (seems reasonable) got sucked into one of the three most exciting NBA dynasties of all-time. That list includes Bill Russell’s Celtics, the Showtime Lakers and of course, my personal favorite, The Jordan Rules Bulls.
You got that right bub, I was a Bulls fan. So where did it all go wrong for me?
Two words: Jerry Krause.
But it’s not as simple as choosing sides between two of the biggest egos in basketball history (Krause and Michael Jordan), the blood runs thicker than that. Don’t get me wrong, Krause plays a huge role in this ongoing narrative, but his boneheadedness (that’s right, I felt like the word boneheaded just didn’t quite do the job. Krause deserved something more: an inflectional ending.) in ticking off His Airness didn’t do the job alone.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Part I: My Postal Giant
It wasn’t just No. 23 who captured my young basketball soul, it was also Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, B.J. Armstrong, Luc Longley (ok, maybe not Luc Longley), Ron Harper (but barely), John Paxton, Bill Wennington and yes, even Dennis Rodman.
What a freak that guy was. But he was our freak. And one helluva defensive phenomenon.
Still, what really strapped me in tighter than the skin on Dolly Parton’s forehead, was the ultimate Robin complex, the best sidekick a super-star could ask for; Scottie Pippen.
It wasn’t just that watching a 6-foot-8, point forward glide up the floor, taking turns shutting down opposing shooting stars with MJ, it was also where he was from. Hamburg, Arkansas.
Let me explain.
I may have grown up in central California with my single-parent mom, but my dad lived in the boondocks. Literally. We claimed he lived in Monticello, Arkansas, but his address might as well have read: Jim Bates; 1519 Jim Bates Rd.; Jim Bates, Arkansas 71658.
His house was in the woods. Old Jimmy Wayne’s nearest neighbor lived at least a mile away. I should know, my brother and I rode horses and four-wheelers on the gravel road to his house. Boon-docks.
Anyway, wherever Dad’s house actually was, it was only a stone’s throw from Hamburg. As you enter the tiny town, the first thing you will find is a large green road sign reading, “Welcome to Scottie Pippen Country.” It was the home of Scottie Pippen’s family. Pretty cool for a ten-year-old basketball enthusiast.
Even cooler was that Dad had the capacity to introduce me to Pippen’s brother, Billy. You see, Billy Pippen happened to be an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. That’s right, Scottie’s brother was a Newman.
To this day I remember the encounter outside of the Monticello Post Office to a tee. It’s important to note that my dad didn’t actually know the Pippen’s. Any of them. But a rule of thumb for life in southeastern Arkansas, is you don’t have to know a person to strike up a conversation, regardless of their pedigree. A simple “Well howdy…” or even a wave serves as a perfectly acceptable ice breaker.
So one day as we finished up at a stop at the feed store (don’t get me started…), Dad decided to drive by the Post Office, to see if Billy happened to be around. And wouldn’t you know; he was.
Dad: (Getting out of the truck…) Well hey there, Billy. Whatdaya say?
(No. What did I say? I told you… you are allowed to talk to ANYONE in Arkansas. Just say hello.)
(And no, my dad has no relation to Willie Mays.)
Billy: Well… hello.
Dad: I’d like you to meet my sons, Ben and Landon. They wanted’ta meetcha. These boys are big basketball fans.
Me: (Rolling my eyes.)
Landon: (Thinking about skateboarding.)
Billy: Nice to meet you both.
Dad: Say, Billy, would you mind takin’ a picture with maw boys?
Billy: Sure. No problem.
(We walk over to him.)
Billy: (Looking at my black and red No. 23 jersey…) Looks like you’ve got the wrong jersey on son. That or the wrong brother.
Me: (Sheepishly, pushing hair out of my eyes, to shake his hand.) Umm, well… yeah… but your brother is really great too! Gee golly garsh mister!
(Ok, I didn’t actually mutter that last part, but I think you get the point.)
So that was that. My dad snapped a photo, we all shook hands and then left Billy Pippen to deliver the mail. I was a skinny little sports geek, who just met a blood relative of my second favorite NBA star. Definitely an impactful meeting, to say the least.
It certainly helped that Billy’s brother happened to be insanely talented, but a heritage bond between a child and his athletic heroes cannot be discounted. It makes you feel interconnected in a small way. You have a stake in the player. In the team. So when things go sour, it affects the fan that much more.
Billy Pippen and southeast Arkansas were my connections to those legendary Bulls teams. Simple, but strong.
And if you hurt Scottie Pippen, you hurt me too.
Creepy? Yeah, a little. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that later.
(Not the creepy part. The wronging Scottie Pippen part.)