A Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Is Dennis Rodman too bad for his own good?
Larry Bird, Doctor J, Bob Pettit, etc. These guys were among slew of no-brainers that had to be included in SLAM 130′s New Top 50 a few months back. Kobe, Duncan, LeBron. These three were among the current stars that climbed onto, and climbed up, the New Top 50 list (as opposed to the NBA’s in ’97). Nash and Rodman. These two ended up on the list only after much debate. Since then, y’all have picked up and ran with the argument. Dennis Rodman has unarguably been the most controversial of the 50. Loved by many, hated by an equal amount, people have been throwing reasons around like water on a wildfire. Did the great players around him such as Michael Jordan (speaking of, check out the special SLAM Presents Jordan issue that hit newsstands yesterday) help him pad his stats and receive undeserved credit, or would he have done even more on lesser teams? Did he hurt the play of those around him or elevate it? Etc., etc. Well, Scoop Jackson and Tony Gervino first debated the issue in SLAM 16, in 1997. Let’s see if they’re reasoning still sounds solid.—Tzvi Twersky
Whether you like him or loathe him, you talk a hell of a lot about Dennis Rodman. Admit it. There’s always some new hair color, tattoo or truly bizarre SportsCenter outburst to mull over with your boys—arguin’, cussin’ each other out, before you eventually agree to disagree. And since the Bulls are on national TV like every other night during the season, you get to see a lot of him. Which is a good thing. Or not. Here are two points of view.
by Scoop Jackson
Mad rebounds. In the simplest form, this is what Dennis Rodman’s life can be reduced to. Two words: Mad. Rebounds. That’s all that needs to be stressed. You don’t hear me, though. The definition of a man. A mad-pierced, mad-tatooed, mad-sexed, mad-conditioned, mad-smart mad man. With this, he wins. Mad Victories. Mad Love. And in an era of swollen contracts, wooden dolls and OJ, who you gonna be down with?
Like the Deftones, Dennis Rodman is bored. Too bored to be concerned with someone dissecting his game, taking sides. Is he this, is he that? It’s meaningless. Until you get a deeper understanding of basketball, true basketball, then an appreciation you don’t got. Not now, not yet. When he’s gone, out of the game for good, it will hit you. Like a brick. Upside yo head.
Then and only then will you comprehend that a man 6-6 (not 6-8) led the League in rebounding six years (including this year) in a row. Then you will understand what it means to be named defensive player-of-the-year, twice. Then you will swallow the depth four rings (including this year) have. Yet dude is bored and you, you confused. Lost in the hype. Looking for his wife at the book signing. He maintains the illness to get attention because none of y’all pay attention to what’s really going on.
You can’t knock the hustle. The energy. You know, that power by which anything effectively moves or changes other things or accomplishes any result. The readiness for effective action. Power in active exercise, force in operation. Rodman by definition. His energy can be neither bottled nor replaced. It’s extra. He makes the Bulls kinetic: non-understanders only see the rebounds. Because the energy is invisible, it goes unnoticed, yet an organization feeds off it. There’s no 72 wins without energy. There’s no getting past the Knicks in the playoffs last year without it. There is no invincibility without the feed.
This is what separates Rodman. The ability to send the unseen ingredient into teammates. Jordan brings intensity; Rodman brings the energy. It comes in doses. Large ones. In the fourth quarter when he’s fighting four opposing players for the ball in the middle of an offensive drought. It comes in the form of getting a charging foul on Zo, Shaq, Oakley or Shawn Kemp just when they are feeling in the groove and thinking of taking over.
The raised arms. The pumped fists. The screams. At times they have been known to demoralize squads and turn games around. It’s contagious, and the Bulls know it. They wait for it because they know it’s there.
There have been other players in the league’s 50 year history who could rebound, defend and score better than Rodman. That’s fact. But none could regenerate a team through spontaneous combustion. If the importance of Jordan’s intensity is going to be the measure that puts him apart from all others, then Dennis’ gift has to be sipped.
As bad as you wanna try it, you can’t deny it. Fight it, but don’t be stupid. You want to be down? Don’t you? You can’t. you can’t be down with Rodman unless you praise the work ethic and the knowledge that goes into building his domain. See, the partying, the Harleys, the Crobar, the clothes, the tats, the nightlife, the whole grunge thang got you souped. You’re missing it. Hang with D one night, you’ll call in sick, hung-over the next morning. Him? Never. At work early.
He knows the game. He’s the best-conditioned athlete in the NBA, maybe in all of sports. The work he puts in to play 49 minutes a game, to fight players that have five inches and 40 pounds on him, to make Cindy Crawford catch jungle fever, is relentless. Unmatched since Dave Cowens. He learned the tricks of the game from Bill Lambier, tricks of the trade from Madonna. Now he’s the master, and y’all can’t stand it. Player hatin’ to the nth degree. Check yourself, look in the mirror. You look soft. Can’t accept the fact that he’s that good, that important. You’ll learn. Just don’t hate Dennis Rodman because he’s beautiful.
Weird science. Rodman has his game broken down to one. The science of being in love with holding the ball in your hands after somebody misses a shot. Worm love. Check SportsCenter; they don’t even call rebounds “rebounds” anymore. They are forever called “rodmans”. Appropriate. Outside of glass cleaning, Rodman has elevated small-forward defense into an art.
He and Pippen are the most versatile defensive players ever. Pip can cover 1-4, Rodman can stop 2-5. Between them, games locked. He unquestionably has the best, most slept-on outlet pass in the league. You all don’t hear me. His desire to win rings is only surpassed by Michael’s will.
The counterculture of a man wanting to be loved, not by any of us individually, but by the world. None of us really knows who Dennis Rodman is. Why should we? His aura, his surroundings, his life are not here for us to judge. His game is. But you, yes you, refuse to look deeper than the surface; you can’t stay focused for that long. He can. Now you’re pissed off. Mad.
Advice: It’s always better to be pissed off than pissed on. That’s Rodman’s logic. Whose side are you on now? Stripped down, Rodman is like one of those brothas at the playground playing in dress socks and polyester cut-offs, ashy and always the last to get picked. He plays defense with his arms out all the time, unorthodox, irritating everybody he guards, yet he’s still on the court five games later. You’d rather have him on your team than to have to play against him. That, in his nutshell, is the bottom fk’n line, kid.
by Tony Gervino
Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to knock Dennis Rodman down a notch. Somebody has to stand up for the voiceless minority to whom Rodman is a sort of AntiChrist SuperStar, threatening the very sanctity of pro hoops with his presence on the court. Preferably somebody with a platform, like a basketball magazine or something. Somebody like me.
And so, despite a tremendous amount of popular opinion, I’m going to say this: I’m sick–and-effing-tired of Dennis Rodman to the point where, if he goes away tomorrow and never returns, I won’t miss him for a second. As a matter of fact, I’ll think about him about as often as Eric Fernsten pops into my mind.
I’m sick of the grandstanding, the incessant whining, the dopey persecution complex, the mockery he made of the NBA Finals and the perpetual flaunting of NBA rules and regulations, while so-called basketball experts crow about his 15 rebounds a game.
Hey people, I have an announcement to make: Charles Barkley had 33 rebounds and 20 points in a game this season, and he’s only 6-4. (Sorry Chuck). What’s more, Charles Barkley—not Rodman—is gonna lead the league in rebounding this season. Rodman is a great rebounder and a superb defender, but to say he’s the greatest ever—as many have—is absurd. Here’s a dose of reality (and no, Dennis, they’re not all seven-foot centers, as you complained in your book):
Wilt Chamberlain—22.9 rpg, 30.1 ppg over 14 yrs
Bill Russell—22.5 rpg, 15.1 ppg over 13 yrs
Jerry Lucas—15.6 rpg, 17 ppg over 11 yrs
Nate Thurmond—15 rpg, 15 ppg over 14 yrs
Walt Bellamy—13.7 rpg, 20.1 ppg ove 14 yrs
Gus Johnson—12.7 rpg, 17.1 ppg over 13 yrs
Elvin Hayes—12.5 rpg, 21 ppg over 16 yrs
Moses Malone—12.3 rpg. 20.9 ppg over 22 yrs
Now keep in mind, these are players who, throughout their careers, didn’t have the luxury of jumping from one championship contender to the next, as Rodman has. And all had the added responsibility of actually scoring more than five points on a nightly basis. Rodman’s career numbers? 12.5 rpg and 7.5 ppg over 10 season. His playoff numbers are lower—9.8 rpg and 7 ppg—and his rebounds have declined the past five season running.
This is not to say that he’s not a great player—he is. It’s just to say, c’mon already, he’s a guy who’s being paid millions to rebound and has six great seasons to his credit. Six. His much-publicized decision to leave the scoring to the rest of the team is selfish in its own way. In addition, I’m pretty sure Mike ‘n’ Scottie could do without the E! Network camera crews roaming the locker room.
But I wouldn’t care so much if the cult of Dennis Rodman were just a case of hoops fans overestimating a player’s on-court talent. (Hell, SLAM’s been doing it for years.) It isn’t. His popularity is due to the enormous middle finger he’s busy pointing at basically anybody even remotely involved in paying his bloated salary. And to me, celebrating a guy like Dennis Rodman is celebrating what’s wrong with the sport, as opposed to what’s right with it.
You saw him headbutt the referee against the News. You saw him repeatedly try to provoke Shawn Kemp during the Finals with his “I didn’t do anything” palms-up gestures, knocking players down, taunting referees, daring them to throw him out and proclaiming afterward that he had psyched the Sonics out by bending the rules and getting away with it. This at a time when a lot of single parents are struggling to teach their kids the meaning of the words “dignity” and “respect”. To show them right from wrong. To present them with a positive role model when being just like Mike is way beyond comprehension.
Tyrone Hill doesn’t wear dresses. Jayson Williams doesn’t have multiple piercings. And last time we checked, Charles Oakley had no juice at the MTV studios. But they hustle like Rodman hustles. And they ache to win, the same way Dennis does. What they lack, deep down (besides a scant few rebounds a game), is the hunger to be noticed. The burning desire for the things in life like praise and media attention that should be the icing on the case and not the cake itself.
I don’t wanna sounds pissy, here. Dennis has three more rings than a lot of players, and you could make the argument that neither the Bulls nor the Pistons would’ve won without him. Maybe. I just can’t celebrate his existence as this breath of fresh air. I can’t pretend that his behavior is anything more than a selfish guy with an inferiority complex acting out his years of frustration. I don’t think he’s funky. At all. And I don’t think he belongs in the All-Star game the same way I didn’t think Albert Belle deserved the American League MVP two seasons ago. There is such a thing as sportsmanship, and even in this world, it has to matter a little. It matter to me, anyhow.
Hey Dennis, enjoy your spotlight for now, ‘cause your legacy has been set in stone: The only NBA player ever to wear a wedding dress.
Rest in peace.