The United Center's luxury boxes are also filled to near capacity. Of the arena's 216 suites—ranging from $144,000 to $300,000 annually—144 came up for renewal over the off-season. Amazingly, Schanwald and his minions renewed or resold all but six of them, receiving for each a minimum three-year commitment. "Going to games is a good way to entertain clients," says Barbara Bond, an administrator at the Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn, which has leased a corporate suite since the arena opened before 1994-95. "And people still remember the excitement from the championship teams."
Owing to the crowds occupying the seats and boxes, the minuscule payroll, the lucrative leaguewide television contract and the princely local TV deal with WGN and Fox Sports Channel, Forbes recently rated the Bulls as the NBA's second-most-valuable franchise, at $307 million, behind the New York Knicks ($334 million). "This is the time for ownership to finally get fat at the trough," says a rival general manager. "Fans are still giddy from the tides, so [the Bulls] have the same revenues coming in and they're not paying Michael's huge salary." (Reinsdorf declined to comment to SI.)
But how long can the profitable afterglow last? Already a handful of sponsors, including Ameritech, have withdrawn their support; empty seats abound at home games and the sellout streak is sure to end this year; even partners in the team's ownership group are concerned. "Look, they've done a great job of reselling the product for this season," says Lamar Hunt, Chicago's second-largest shareholder and a partial owner in the Bulls since the mid-1960s. "But I'm afraid it won't last long if we don't get into the mode of winning some games."
Krause's mantra this season is that he's clearing cap room and intends to sign at least one big-name free agent over the summer. The obvious candidates, however, appear to be long shots. Spurs center Tim Duncan is a good bet to remain in San Antonio now that the city will start construction on a state-of-the-art arena. Detroit Pistons forward Grant Hill, who has always bridled at the Heir Jordan tag, is unlikely to want to assume the role of Messiah with the downtrodden Bulls. If Krause makes a move for a free agent a cut below—say, Toronto Raptors swing-man Tracy McGrady, who conspiracy theorists note shares an agent with the overpaid Perdue—he risks committing serious money to an un-proven player.
While free agents once lined up for the chance to play alongside greatness and earn a ring, the Bulls have lost whatever cachet they had. Courted by Chicago before last season, Denver Nuggets forward Antonio McDyess deemed the Jordan-less Bulls "an expansion team with cold weather." After their epic knock-down-drag-outs with players over salaries, the notorious Jerrys engender fear and loathing around the league. Though Krause denies that Chicago was ever interested, Penny Hardaway asserts that the Bulls wooed him last off-season. Hardaway demurred after speaking with Horace Grant, a starter on the first three Chicago champs and then an Orlando Magic teammate. "Horace said it was just awful management," says Hardaway, who signed with the Phoenix Suns. "The organization isn't known for its fair play."
Currently in position to reap next year's No. 1 pick, Chicago can also improve through the draft. Yet that, too, is an iffy proposition. For all his cloak-and-dagger secrecy and surreptitious scouting mechanisms, Krause has a spotty draft record. Yes, he discovered Pippen and Kukoc. But he also wasted a lottery pick on Stacey King and nabbed Jason Caffey while Michael Finley, a Chicago native now starring for the Mavericks, was on the board. Last summer Krause hardly whiffed by using the top choice on Brand, who was averaging 16.3 points and 8.9 boards at week's end. But with his team desperate for a play-maker, he would have fared better by rolling the dice on either Lamar Odom or Steve Francis. "I think we've won enough to know what it takes," says Krause. "We're in the business of winning championships, not the business of being mediocre."
If there is a tragic figure in this riches-to-rags story, it is Floyd, Krause's fishing buddy, who was lured—hook, line and sinker—to replace Phil Jackson before last season. Like Figliulo and other Bulls fans, Floyd steeled himself for life after Jordan. What he didn't expect was that in his second year he would inherit a roster that could be confused with that of the Rock-ford Lightning. Thrust into an unenviable situation, Floyd has demonstrated Gandhian patience and, choosing his words with painful precision, has said all the right things publicly. (In private, though, he has confided that he feels betrayed by Krause.) While the triple post has long been Krause's offense of choice, Floyd stands staunchly by it. "I'm not fine with the losing, but I'm fine with the decision I made to take this job," says Floyd. "We'll see whether Jerry decides to play all his cards this summer. He really doesn't talk [to me] much about it."
As the losses mount, the fans linger a bit longer at the Jordan statue outside the United Center and come to appreciate the sextet of championship banners that much more. In the locker room the team gropes for moral victories and tries to salvage some pride. "We just have to keep trying to improve," point guard Randy Brown, one of the few holdovers from the dynasty, says with a shrug. "We had a great run, but that era's over. It's over, man."