Dennis Rodman is without a doubt a true NBA legend and truly one-of-a-kind player that made a name of himself on the court and off the court. At one point in time during the ’90s, he was the second most popular NBA player on the planet, right after Michael Jordan and rightfully so. In addition, Rodman was a menace on defense because of his ability and pure willpower to compete for every play, making life extremely hard for the opposing players.
However, Rodman took some time to adjust to playing against the best players in the NBA, and he had to learn some things the hard way, especially when competing against Larry Bird. The Pistons and Celtics had a heated rivalry back in the day, and these teams faced off against each other numerous times in the regular season and the playoffs. That allowed Rodman to see firsthand how good Bird was in his prime.
In an interview for Basketball Time Machine, Rodman talked about one of the first times he had to guard Bird, and things didn’t turn out the way he was hoping for initially. Bird was making one jump shot after the other, constantly talking trash to Rodman, undermining his ability to guard him properly. It took some time for Rodman to figure out Bird, and after he solidified himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA at that time, Bird started giving him the respect he deserved.
I tried my best to guard Larry Bird, and it didn’t work too well. He kind of schooled me the whole game. Every game we played, he said Dennis are you guarding me? Take that for you. And I was like, okay, I will take that, Larry. He made a jump shot and said Dennis do you like that? I said, man, to hell with you. Don’t worry about it. After I had a couple of years in the NBA under my belt, I said, okay, great, I belong in this league. All of a sudden, Larry Bird started to respect me.Dennis Rodman, via Basketball Time Machine
Rodman remembers it all changed for him after Chuck Daly started trusting him more and let him guard the best players on the opposing teams. Interestingly enough, Rodman admits he didn’t know much about Bird when he came to the NBA, so it served as an excellent exercise for him because if he could’ve stopped Bird, that meant he could guard anybody in the NBA.
Chuck Daly saw I was so loose and had so much energy that I could go for 48 minutes per game and guard anybody in the world. He put the trust in me, and I always told Chuck, let me play, I will do anything you want me to do. He said go out and guard Larry Bird, and I didn’t know at that point who Larry was. I just thought he was a white guy in the NBA. The more I got to play Larry Bird, I had to figure out this game belongs to Dennis Rodman when it comes to defense and rebounding. That was my determination to go out and stop the best player on each team.Dennis Rodman, via Basketball Time Machine
Rodman solidified his NBA legacy by winning five championships while putting up pretty remarkable rebounding numbers. But, on the other hand, he was successful in guarding players in almost every position, and his off-the-court antics turned him into a legend. We’ll definitely never see anyone like Rodman ever again in the NBA, who was able to dominate in such a way as he did even though he wasn’t the biggest guy. Still, his heart, willpower, and competitiveness were truly unmatched.