There have been numerous player rivalries throughout NBA history, but perhaps no one is as unique as the one between Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone.
The Bulls were battling the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals for the second straight year, as the two power forwards were fighting each other in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year. But nobody knew they were ready to take it outside the court.
The Bulls had gotten used to Rodman’s antics, which they accepted as part of the deal in exchange for him providing a defensive presence and being a dominant force on the boards. But this one would top them all. Rodman had taken the day off and was scheduled to fly to Auburn Hills, Michigan, to appear on World Championship Wrestling’s Monday Nitro as a member of the New World Order (NWO) to start a feud with Karl Malone, the player he’d face in the Finals.
While WCW had not yet made that storyline public, it had set the main event for its July 1998 ‘Bash at the Beach’ pay-per-view in July, a month after the Finals. It would be a tag team match with Hulk Hogan and Rodman against Malone and Diamond Dallas Page.
Growing up, Malone was a huge fan of professional wrestling. Page and Malone became close friends after meeting earlier in the 1997-98 season in Houston. The two arranged to meet after the game and made plans to hang out in New York at All-Star Weekend that season. They pitched an idea to Bischoff (president of WCW): a tag team match with himself and Malone against Hogan and Rodman.
WCW scheduled the main event for July 12, 1998, at the Cox Arena in San Diego and arranged a promotional tour following the NBA Finals. NBC’s broadcast briefly mentioned the fight at the start of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and then it was back to business as usual. The news of Rodman and Malone’s wrestling match—only a month away—was becoming public.
In the third quarter during Game 6, the game many basketball fans remember for Jordan’s iconic Finals-clinching shot over Bryon Russell, Rodman and Malone got tangled up on the court, with Rodman drawing a technical foul after tripping Malone.
After the Finals, Malone flew to the Power Plant—WCW’s training facility in Atlanta—where he regularly trained with Page to prepare for the match. The main event ended up drawing a 1.50 buy rate, the highest of any WCW pay-per-view event that year. The actual match lasted 23 minutes.
Of the two, Malone was definitely the more active participant. Officially, Rodman and Hogan won the match, thanks to interference from NWO member The Disciple. From a financial standpoint, the main event was a success. Following the duel, some discussed continuing the Rodman-Malone rivalry.
Rodman and Malone earned $1.5 million and $900,000 respectively for the main event, but some believe both had such a love for wrestling that they would have done it for free.