During his Hall of Fame ceremony speech, Dennis Rodman revealed another side of himself that basketball fans may perhaps admire.
“My wife left me, took my kid, took my money, took everything,” Rodman said. “I didn’t know how to deal with these hard times. I thought being in the NBA, we won a couple of championships (with the Detroit Pistons), everything was cool, good friends. And everything started to crumble around me. And Chuck Daly was like, ‘Dude, my house is your house’ … I lost everybody, pretty much. And when you’re at home, and you’re contemplating, what should I do, what should I do?, and those four walls are closing in, I just got in my truck.”
He drove to Auburn Hills.
“I was listening to Pearl Jam the whole time,” he said. “I fell asleep. I think that anytime, ’cause I had the gun like this (in his hands), anytime, if I had any type of reaction, I could have shot that off easily, by accident. I wasn’t really trying to kill Dennis Rodman; I was trying to get rid of the old one. Because the one that had come to the NBA was no longer there anymore. It ripped me apart, mentally wise and physically wise … I was like, screw it. To hell with it. There’s no sense being around here. And I had nowhere to go.”
Rodman asked for a trade, and was sent to San Antonio in a package for Sean Elliott on Oct. 1, 1993. It was in that military town, with a former Air Force cadet and Russian expert named Gregg Popovich as general manager, that Rodman, at a mall with his new girlfriend, first dyed his hair, out of boredom more than anything else. Soon after, they went to the movies, and saw “Demolition Man,” the Sylvester Stallone action flick in which Wesley Snipes played the proto-villian Simon Phoenix, complete with blond Mohawk. It was an omen.
But Rodman’s emerging wild side clashed with his teammates — specifically, David Robinson, the Navy man and the Spurs’ big man leader in the pre-Tim Duncan days.
“I got red hair, pink hair, blue hair, this, this and this, and I’m doing this, going out and having a good time,” Rodman said. “And then go on the court and I’m grabbing 20 rebounds a game. (Robinson) used to say to me, ‘I need to talk to you about God.’ I would say, ‘Ohhkay.’
So we sat down one day at a restaurant and said, ‘I you’ll just understand that this is the type of city where people love to go to church, they’re very simple, they’re not very edgy,’ and the whole spiel. And I said, OK, great, cool. I said, ‘I can’t live that life. All I do is come here, I get paid to play basketball. I didn’t come here for people to like me; I come here to play basketball and win.’ I think that was one of the biggest problems with me and David, that we kind of bumped heads a lot. Not all negative, but I thought he could have been more aggressive in games, like (Hakeem) Olajuwon, like Shaquille O’Neal, other big men. David wasn’t really the physical type center.”
Rodman says he liked Robinson and respected his skills. And Rodman’s numbers in San Antonio were even better than they were in Detroit. But the Spurs crumbled in the playoffs two years in a row, most cruelly in 1995, after posing the league’s best record (62-20) during the regular season.
Robinson won the MVP award and the Spurs reached the West finals against the defending-champion Rockets. But an extremely motivated Olajuwon dominated Robinson in the series, and Rodman seemed to actually detach from the team — just as he had at points during the season.
The Spurs suspended him at the end of the preseason, giving him a three and a half week leave of absence, then suspended him a second time when he didn’t return on time from the first suspension. Rodman didn’t endear himself to management after separating his shoulder in a motorcycle accident late in the year.
In the Rockets’ series, Rodman sat by himself on the baseline during a timeout in Game 1. Then-coach Bob Hill benched him for the last 21 minutes of Game 2. Houston won in six games. But Rodman believes his troubles in San Antonio had a benefit.
“I did my job. I averaged 18 rebounds a game for two years there,” he said. “And I did everything I possibly could. We had the best record two years in a row. The only thing that wasn’t right was me and Popovich didn’t get along, because I wanted a new contract and he wouldn’t give me one. So, they decided to trade me for Will Perdue.” And here, Rodman chuckles.
“I think San Antonio actually really prepared me mentally-wise,” he said. “I just said the hell with everyone. I’m just going to do my thing. I’m going to do my job. Because a lot of guys that get traded to a new team do not have that stamina as far as keeping the momentum (of their career) going. If you win a rebound title, most guys, like Ben Wallace, when he went to Chicago, his career just went pffft, went down. He was the defensive player of the year three, four years in a row, and when he got the big contract, pffft. His career went to hell. Me, my career went up. It went up.”
It helped that he went to Chicago, which needed his low-post defense and toughness to complement Jordan and Pippen’s perimeter ballhawking after Horace Grant left via free agency to join O’Neal in Orlando. There were major questions about whether Rodman’s act would fit. But the Bulls also had a coach in Phil Jackson who tolerated Rodman’s idiosyncracies, fined him quietly when he broke team rules but, basically, let Rodman be Rodman.
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