One of the five best defensive players in basketball history will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer. While many of you hear the name “Dennis Rodman” and immediately think “cross-dressing train wreck”, those of us that followed basketball in the late Eighties and most of the Nineties (hopefully) feel differently.
Rodman was, basically, a freak of nature. Drafted at age 25 out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, he didn’t follow the typical trajectory of a basketball stud. Only 6’7″ (Wikipedia lists him at 6’6″, so who knows?), the man they called The Worm was a rebounding machine, leading the league in that category for seven years straight. Like similar small enforcers like Charles Barkley and Charles Oakley, Rodman had a way of getting in your head and was able to defensively shut down the cream of the NBA crop. Unlike Barkley and Oakley, though, Rodman has a championship ring. Um, make that five championship rings. He won two as part of the “Bad Boys”-era Detroit Pistons at the close of the Eighties, and later he joined forces with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on a virtually unstoppable Chicago Bulls team in the late Nineties for another three.
Of course, shutting down opposing players and grabbing boards like Pac-Man wasn’t the only thing Rodman became known for. Already having gained a bit of a rep as a loose cannon following comments he and teammate Isiah Thomas made about Larry Bird following a playoff loss in the late-Eighties, Rodman really cut loose in the early Nineties-dyeing his hair several different colors (sometimes all at once), dating Madonna during a period when it seemed like she was being passed around like a blunt, and performing outlandish antics like showing up for a book signing in a bridal gown. He ushered the tattoo era into the NBA, and stood up for causes like gay rights when no professional player would go near those topics (come to think of it, most still won’t). I admired (and still admire) the guy not only because of his play, but because he was ballsy enough to be himself in a league that prides itself on conformity. He was one of the most successful players of his era and still was very much his own person. For someone who was trying to figure out a way to be successful and retain his individuality, he was an inspiration. On a more sinister tip, though, Rodman is widely credited with being at odds with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in the mid Nineties and blowing up the chemistry of a championship-caliber team, he had an unnecessary encounter with a courtside cameraman that earned him a lengthy suspension (and probably cost the cameraman the use of his balls for a few months), and has been widely credited as being a general menace. However, the fact that he made one of the most awful films of all time (“Double Team”) makes up for some of those transgressions. Right?
Since Rodman’s retirement, he’s had a tough time adjusting, or some might say he’s just continued being a menace. He’s a veteran of several reality shows, including “Celebrity Mole” (which he won), and more unfortunately, “Celebrity Rehab”. He was married to bombshell Carmen Electra for about a minute, and has found himself on the police blotter on a couple of occasions. Of course, Gestapo-like NBA commissioner David Stern has no use for Rodman, which might be why he hasn’t found himself jumping into telecasting or a front office job (seriously-can you imagine how much fun Dennis would be as a play-by-play guy? They’d have to put the games on 5-second delay!), but maybe the Hall of Fame nod can help Rodman turn things around. One can only hope that the recognition from the league and his peers means something to him.
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