Sports column: Breaking MJ’s curse

By Mike Szwaja

Okay, let’s get this straight. The Chicago Bulls won 23 games last season.

On Tuesday night, they beat the Dallas Mavericks in impressive fashion, on the road, for their 23rd victory of this season.

On Wednesday, ESPN aired the third part of their five-part series on life after Michael Jordan, which suggested that a curse on all Chicago sports teams set in when Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999. As we all know, the number 23 goes hand-in-hand with His Airness like the number 24 goes with Jack Bauer.

Coincidence? Probably, but there’s something to be said for Jordan contributing to the Bulls’ current successes and past failures.

People rush to judgment when they blame former GM Jerry Krause for the breakup of the Bulls seven years ago. Krause had a hand in the breakup, but both Phil Jackson and Jordan played their own roles.

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Jackson went on a power trip and wanted more input in the decision-making process. Krause laughed at his coach and told him not to let the United Center doors hit his rear end on the way out. Jordan couldn’t fathom playing for another coach at that point in his career and hated Krause for letting Jackson walk, so MJ took his rings and strutted out of the building he built knowing nobody would dare blame him for any of it.

Krause then went on a power trip of his own, ridding himself of what was left like it was yesterday’s garbage, from Scottie Pippen to Randy Brown to trainer Chip Schaefer to PA announcer Ray Clay. What did Ray Clay ever do?

Anyway, back to the point at hand. In Jordan’s absence, he wouldn’t keep his mouth shut about how bad Krause had screwed up and about how the Bulls were going nowhere as long as he was around.

Meanwhile, there was Elton Brand – Krause’s first lottery, post-Jordan draft pick – listening to Jordan’s rants. And by the end of Brand’s second year as a Bull, his agent, David Faulk, had convinced him the Bulls were nothing but a stepping stone. Brand was out of there at the first sign of free agency. What was fishy about this situation?

Faulk was Jordan’s agent, too. The Jordan curse was in full effect.

Krause saw the writing on the wall and had no choice but to trade Brand.

Then there was Tracy McGrady, whom Krause tried to sign as a free agent in 2000. McGrady had clauses in his endorsement deals that would have upped his contract had he signed on to play in a big market like Chicago. Even so, one day after Krause wined and dined McGrady, he signed with the Magic.

Why? We’ll never know, but is it wrong to assume it had something to do with Jordan’s constant Krause-bashing? The Jordan curse was at it again.

Then, suddenly, Krause quit. He cited health problems, but you have to think Jerry Reinsdorf saw what was going on and had no choice but to dismiss his GM.

In came John Paxson, an old Jordan buddy. Suddenly, Jordan was all quiet in the western suburbs and the curse started crumbling.

Paxson’s first draft yielded the surprising, ever-improving Kirk Hinrich. The Bulls showed signs of life but, fittingly, won only 23 games.

In draft two, Pax became enthralled with Ben Gordon and Luol Deng – so he went and got both of them and added Chris Duhon for good measure. Then, a weird thing happened.

Jordan invited Gordon to his annual summerfest of NBA stars at Hoops the Gym. MJ fell in love with Gordon and they become so close they frequently had dinner and drinks at Jordan’s home after their workouts.

Think that would have happened with a Krause draft pick? No chance.

Gordon says he and Jordan still talk frequently – talks that usually involve Gordon receiving advice from basketball’s best player ever. Jordan even shows up at Bulls games these days.

That has to be encouraging if you’re a Bulls fan, and not just because Gordon is key to the Bulls’ future. The Jordan curse is over, and that’s just as important.