The outrageous outfits and tabloid tales guaranteed Dennis Rodman fame long after he finished running with the Bulls.
He was in Mexico about five years ago on a midnight run for tacos — the fun often started for Rodman around midnight — when a group of girls approached and started screaming his name.
An amused Rodman turned to his agent and marveled, “Dude, these girls never saw me play basketball.”
And what a player they missed.
Rodman will get recognition for his often overlooked accomplishments on the court Friday when he is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Chris Mullin is the other headline name, becoming the 11th member of the famed 1992 Dream Team to earn enshrinement as an individual. Big men Artis Gilmore and Arvydas Sabonis; eight-time NBA champion Tom “Satch” Sanders of the Celtics; five-time Olympic gold medalist Teresa Edwards; coaching greats Tex Winter, Tara VanDerveer and Herb Magee; and the late Reece “Goose” Tatum of the Harlem Globetrotters also will be honored at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
All greats of the sport, but none as colorful or controversial as Rodman.
He’s probably better known for wearing a wedding dress than a Detroit or Chicago uniform, and he’s aware that his antics turned off plenty. But beneath the piercings and tattoos was someone serious about his basketball, and only a few have won more often than he did since entering the NBA a quarter-century ago as a second-round pick of the Pistons.
“None of my teammates had no problem with me,” Rodman said in a phone interview. “And I always say to myself, if anyone has a problem with Dennis Rodman, all you’ve got to do is look at the record. Every team I went to, I won, and I was a big, major part of that team.”
Indeed, he went 636-275, a .698 winning percentage that since his career started is bettered only by San Antonio’s trio of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, according to STATS, LLC. Rodman led the league in rebounding an NBA-record seven straight seasons, won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, and won back-to-back titles with the Pistons before teaming with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for three in a row with the Bulls.
And he had plenty of fun doing it.
A brief marriage to Carmen Electra and a relationship with Madonna took him from the sports pages to the gossip ones, and he’s lived there well past his NBA career ended in 2000.
“The last maybe 13 years, people always ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I say I don’t do anything. I don’t even have a job, but you always see me on TV, I’m always somewhere around the press or somewhere like on a red carpet,” Rodman said. “At least once a week or twice a week, you probably hear my name on TV or see me in all the tabloids or something like that, and I don’t even have a job. I must be doing something right.”
Mullin has stayed in the game, building the Golden State Warriors, his longtime team, into a playoff club as general manager and currently working as an analyst for ESPN. A seemingly automatic left-handed jumper led him to a decorated college career at St. John’s, Olympic gold medals in 1984 and ’92 and five All-Star selections — none of which he saw coming when he started playing basketball growing up in Brooklyn.
“Even back in grade school if I looked at my skill set, I probably should have played baseball, I probably should have stuck to swimming. But I always really loved basketball,” Mullin said. “The way I was taught to play it didn’t emphasize athleticism, thank God. The game, it was passing.
“When I started playing in Harlem and in the city, I always tried to figure out how I could fit in rather than try to emulate. I knew there were some things I was never going to be able to do, but also some things I did that they didn’t do. Even at St. John’s as a freshman, I felt very overwhelmed physically. I was slow and just little by little as the game evolved to a team game it made more sense to me, I could figure out where to fit in. It became more of a natural fit.”
Success also came later to Rodman, who didn’t even play as a high schooler in Dallas before spending his final three collegiate seasons in Durant, Okla., at Southeastern Oklahoma State, an NAIA school. Though it’s natural to recall his Bulls teams, Rodman has special fondness for the “Bad Boy” Pistons where he got his start.
He was in the audience last year for Pippen’s induction and had no problem envisioning himself being honored, even with a career scoring average of only 7.3 points.
Rodman, though, owns the top NBA individual career rebounding average since 1973 (13.1 boards per game).
“Not to sound too straightforward, but I could have been in the last two or three years, but you know how politics works,” Rodman said. “But I’m a man, it’s all good.”
And fear not: He insists there will be no dress, but definitely “real cool stuff to wear onstage.”
He’s busy “living life on the edge” and “taking the bull by the horns,” doing the things that fascinated fans during his playing career. He was involved in pro wrestling and is still working with former tag team partner Hulk Hogan on a weight loss challenge program.
Even now, only a hair appointment could slow him down long enough to get on the phone before heading off to basketball’s birthplace. And he should feel right at home — Friday’s coverage on NBA TV includes a red carpet show.
“I don’t have a TV job, I don’t have a radio show, I don’t have a TV show, I don’t have the internet,” Rodman said. “But I can go anywhere in the world, literally, on a red carpet, anything, and walk right in like I’m like one of those movie stars. It’s insane dude.”