Jim Henneman: Don’t Miss These Baltimore Connections In ‘The Last Dance’

Trying to catch up while binge-watching oldies but goodies on the telly:

ESPN is doing its best to fill in some blanks during the quarantine. Scott Van Pelt did a nice job with a long series of “senior nights” saluting those unsung heroes who didn’t get to enjoy the experience in reality. And now, the “worldwide leader” is stretching out the 10-part “Last Dance” Michael Jordan series that won’t quite garner as much attention as the NFL — but most likely will produce more controversy.

While watching the first installment (they’re running two at a time on Sunday nights through May 17) I couldn’t help but wonder how many people picked up on a very prominent, but likely overlooked, connection to the 1963-64 Baltimore Bullets. That was the first of 10 seasons the franchise played here, in between Chicago (where they were known as the Zephyrs) and Washington (where they now answer to the name Wizards).

Jerry Krause, who came off as a villain disguised as everybody’s favorite pinata, was a scout when Jordan was drafted prior to the 1983-84 season. Rod Thorn was the team’s general manager (he eventually would be succeeded by Krause), and Kevin Loughery was Jordan’s first NBA coach.

Flash back to 1963-64 — the Bullets’ first year in what used to be called the Baltimore Civic Center. Krause was the team’s public relations director, brought from Chicago by owner Dave Trager. Thorn, third in the line of West Virginia greats following Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West, was the very first draft choice (Gus Johnson was the second) for the Bullets, for whom he teamed with Loughery in the backcourt.

Krause and Thorn would stay in Baltimore for only that first year, while Loughery played here for eight-plus years. Krause worked as a scout in both baseball and basketball, working for Eddie Reinsdorf with both the White Sox and Bulls. He became a somewhat controversial figure after becoming Bulls’ general manager, but he was eventually inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, the year he died.

Thorn and Loughery also enjoyed long NBA careers, Thorn as an Executive at both the team and league level, and Loughery as a longtime coach in both the ABA and NBA, surrounded by an impressive list of Hall of Famers.

As a player, Loughery was teammates with Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld and, in addition to being on the bench for Jordan’s debut, he also coached Julius Erving (Dr. J) while with the New York Nets.

I have to admit I wondered if the NFL hadn’t just missed the memo about COVID-19 when the league decided to go on as scheduled with its annual draft, but as the date got closer I have to admit I was looking forward to sneaking a peak.

But not until after watching MASN’s rerun of Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS between the Orioles and White Sox. No way the Ravens would have gotten to the 28th pick before Tito Landrum’s home run.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA Photos