The Worm’s Turn


Originally published in SLAM 151

by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport

It was fitting, really. Clad in a white silk shirt tied into a knot above his navel and a leopard print scarf draped over a brown leather vest, Dennis Rodman entered the 2011 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame press conference. The man known on the court for collecting wins, bruises and bundles of rebounds—and off the court for dating Madonna, marrying Carmen Electra, rockin’ a kaleidoscope range of dyed hair and halter tops and boas—never changed for anybody. Never stopped pushing the envelope. Never stopped living by his own set of rules. Not for David Stern. Not for Michael Jordan. Not even for the Hall of Fame.

“This [being elected into the Hall of Fame] represents the fact that they looked past all the negativity,” says a 50-year-old Rodman. “It’s them saying, ‘He actually changed the game a little bit. He changed the way guys rebound, changed the way people played defense, changed the way people look at the game, approach the game.’ I wasn’t a good scorer. I wasn’t the best athlete. I never tried to get everybody looking at me.”

No? That’s funny, because everybody tuned in to see the Dennis Rodman Show—reality TV before there was reality TV. A vast legion of fans cheered the infectious, fist-pumping enthusiasm and antics exhibited when Rodman played. And they watched—though they didn’t necessarily cheer—when, midway through his career, the undersized power forward hid his skin in a menagerie of tattoos, piercings and dyes.

At that point, around 1992 or so, Rodman himself says he was no longer an athlete; he was an entertainer. And his immense basketball acumen almost got lost in that. Almost.

Pound for pound, rebound for rebound, loose ball for loose ball, the L had never seen a player quite like The Worm; a competitor who had the will to do what others wouldn’t at the expense of his body.

Rodman’s gazelle-like sprints up and down the court were picturesque. The way he seized those 11,954 career rebounds with that little something extra was as poetic as a Gil Scott-Heron verse over a J Dilla beat. The way he mind-fucked cats while D-ing them up was Bill Duke from Menace II Society epic. Whether playing hungover, drunk or sober, Dennis the Menace was always one with the rock.

By the time his 14-season career was all said and done, on an individual level, Rodman’s balls-out effort had netted him seven First-Team All-Defensive selections, seven consecutive NBA rebounding titles and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. On a team tip, all Worm did was win, win, win. A member of two dynasties—he won two rings with the Bad Boys Pistons and three with Jordan’s Bulls—Rodman played with such pizzazz that he transcended the third-fiddle status he occupied on those championship teams. Just ask those he battled against.

“I think the world of Dennis Rodman. I always have,” says Karl Malone, whose Utah Jazz lost to Rodman and the Bulls in back-to-back Finals. “It is no doubt in my mind that Dennis Rodman should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s no doubt. He got my vote. You look at what that young man did on the basketball court. He should be in the Hall of Fame. Print that. Anybody don’t like it, tell ’em to come see me.”

No one from the HOF committee had to go see The Mailman. While the actual voting remains a mystery, Rodman is a member of the 2011 Class, which will be inducted in Springfield on August 12. We recently caught up with Dennis about what it all means to him.

SLAM: First of all, congratulations on making the Hall of Fame.


SLAM: Did you ever doubt your chances of getting in?

DR: The way I am, I felt that I wouldn’t get in. I just figured they’d say, “Dennis, you do too many things off the court that doesn’t represent us or the Hall of Fame.” And I didn’t take offense to it. I just said, OK, whatever. I had a great time, I had a great career, I won everywhere I went, but I didn’t expect it.

SLAM: Has it sunk in yet?

DR: It still feels like a joke. Honestly, I thought it was a joke. My agent called and said, “Dennis, they thinking about putting you in the Hall of Fame.” Then I got another phone call from Detroit and they said, “We’re gonna retire your number,” and next thing you know my agent called and said, “Dennis, you’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame, but keep it on the down low.” I was like, “You’re kidding, right?” It was the day I had to go to Detroit to get my number retired, and it’s ironic because the day I go get my number retired is April 1. April Fool’s Day. That’s why I thought it was a joke.

SLAM: What about when it settles in—will you be happy that you made it?

DR: Yes, this ranks up there fairly high. I never even dreamed of this, being in the Hall of Fame, being an All-Star in the League. I did my job, had fun entertaining the crowds, so as far as this right here, this is more like I’m just trying to soak it all in for my kids who never seen me play, especially for my son. This is all for you, bro. I’ve done my job and did it very well. I hope you’ll be proud of me.

SLAM: What feels better: this or winning a Championship?

DR: This is probably the same as winning a Championship. You happy you in. I can go live my life again. You can’t take it back. It’s there to stay.

SLAM: You almost seem dismissive about what you’ve accomplished.

DR: I’m actually trying to put basketball behind me. I’ve done it. I love it, but now I’m moving on to other things. I can always look back and say, “Hey, I’ve done it. I was one of the best in the world.” I can’t talk about basketball all my life, because my life has moved on and transitioned into something else. I have my own app with on teaching rebounding and defense techniques. I’m a celebrity DJ all over the world with my partner DJ Vic Latino in Ibiza, Madrid, St. Tropez and Tokyo, Japan. It’s all on But I can appreciate this for now, and after that I can lay it to rest. It’s all there for people to see and there’s nothing else to say.

SLAM: How does a kid from South Oak Cliff, Dallas, make it all the way to the HOF?

DR: When you live in that environment and you [have] less than nothing to live for or just nothing to even gain in the environment and living off food stamps and stuff like that, I could have easily been dead or in jail. For some good reason, I never did partake in that. I looked at it, ran out the door, ran to the gym every day. I just started playing basketball—that was my outlet. I don’t know what drew me to do that every day ’cause I easily could have taken the wrong road.

SLAM: Did you ever have a favorite stat of yours?

DR: No, I played every game like it was my last. I played hard. I played hard, man. I just wanted to win, win, win.