The Bulls needed reinforcement in the zone after being overpowered by the Orlando Magic frontcourt in the playoffs. “Do you want to become part of the Chicago Bulls?” Jackson asked at a party. “I do not give a damn,” was the honest answer from The Menace. Chicago agreed for a deal for Rodman and sent backup center Will Perdue to San Antonio, where they were happy to get rid of the troublemaker.
Rodman met his next mentor. Jackson understood him. He was one of the few who could see beyond his facade. He invited him home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, cared for him like a father, and more importantly, let Rodman be as he was.
“He wants to be able to express his freedom and express himself as he pleases,” the coach said. “I think that’s fine as long as he sticks to the limits needed to successfully play basketball together.”
It was a tightrope walk. Nobody worked harder than Rodman in the gym, in the gym, and in the game. “He was able to stay on the floor for 48 minutes and played stronger in 48th minute than in the first,” Jackson said of his protege: “He was an incredible athlete.”
That was exactly what Chicago had been missing. With him, the Bulls were again as dominant as before Jordan’s baseball experiment. But while Rodman was keeping his back on the court to MJ, off the floor, it was the superstar who repeatedly helped Dennis out of trouble by maneuvering himself.
Every night was a party: drugs, gambling, sex orgies. It had to be shrill; it had to be loud. Because Rodman knew no more silence. Rumor has it that Jordan occasionally had to put on his eccentric team-mate’s clothes now and then and drag him to training. MJ never lost a word about it. Just as the two off the floor even changed only one.
Scottie Pippen said, “We all knew we would not be distracted from our goals as a team and we thought he could help us when he was on the court, but we were also ready to go on and not look back if he distracted us too much. “Everything went well.”
From time to time it exaggerated Rodman with his aggressiveness on the court. Tangible arguments were not uncommon, but in March ’96 he headbutted referee Ted Bernhardt after an ejection and was suspended for six games. He was again suspended for 11 games, as he punched a cameraman in January 1997.
But there were also good days. “Everyone expected him to destroy the game,” Michael Jordan said after a quiet game by Rodman, “but sometimes he surprises us and shows the opposite, that was one such evening, hopefully, he’ll have a few more.”
In the offseason, nothing was felt by this peace. Rodman filmed Hollywood films, collecting Golden Raspberries. He helped wrestling star Hulk Hogan regain his WCW title. He had books written over himself.
When presenting his first autobiography, he appeared in a white wedding dress – fitting to his confessions of being bisexual, fond of wearing women’s clothes and trying to marry himself. He marketed his second book by letting himself be driven up in a coffin. And the statements in both works were no less egotistical, sexist and voluptuous than his appearance. Jackson did not want to know about all that as long as Rodman did his job. And he did. Only in 1998 was his behavior a severe burden. Together with Jordan, the coach organized an intervention, so much worried the two about their hot-blooded forward and their common goal.
But even during the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, Rodman flew to Las Vegas on his days off, where he had a party full of excitement. The next day Rodman came back to Chicago or Salt Lake City to grab 20 rebounds and make Karl Malone hell out of points. It was almost inhumane – and quite a few saw in Rodman the true Finals MVP. The Bulls made the second threepeat: Title ’96, Title ’97, Title ’98.
Rodman was more fragile than it seemed. Behind the facade, behind the freak he portrayed, was always a boy who was just looking for connection and affirmation – and who dealt with it in his very own way.
But with all his debauchery and antics, one must not forget what made Rodman: he was always a fighter with heart and passion. And one of the best rebounders and defenders in NBA history.