“I’LL PLAY THE GAME FOR FREE, you get paid for the bull*** after you leave the floor”

The main storyline from episodes 3 & 4 of “The Last Dance” is Dennis Rodman taking a mini-vacation in the middle of the season and partying hard in Las Vegas. All the expected “imagine that in modern NBA” comments are making the rounds, implying Twitter would blow up, and everyone would lose their mind. I may be mistaken, but I believe LeBron went to Miami to “rehab an injury” while playing for the Cavs for two weeks. Derrick Rose went AWOL from the Knicks due to homesickness. Twitter is still here; everything was fine.

There’s another moment, a much more serious one, that explains why the Bulls gave Rodman so much rope. In addition to Phil Jackson understanding Rodman, being an NBA outsider and weirdo himself, it was publicly known Dennis was struggling with mental health. The scariest moment so far in the entire docuseries was when Rodman’s inner circle called police worried about his safety.  He was found sleeping in the parking lot of the Pistons arena, with a loaded weapon next to him.

“I had a gun in my hand, like, in the front seat. Luckily, I fell asleep, and the cops came and got me. I was at a lost place at the time. A lost place. That time in my life, I think that was both a wake-up call and a rescue call.”

Dennis Rodman, The Last Dance

Keep in mind that was Pistons Rodman, without the crazy haircuts and outfits. A quiet guy apparently dealing with a lot in his life. If you do want to talk about media reaction now and then, talk about this. Unfortunately, it took the NBA a few decades and courage from players like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love to start constructively talking about mental health. We should’ve done it back then. 

Who knows what kind of tragedy was avoided simply because Rodman fell asleep. Players often say we wrongly assume they are happy because they get paid a lot of money to play a game, are popular and athletic. As we see, for some of them that attention and pressure is a negative thing. They have no choice if they want to participate in the circuits; they can only manage it as best as they can. 

“It’s, not just basketball that we have to deal with on this team. It’s the pressure of the bullshit, you know. I’ll play the game for free, but you get paid for the bull**** after you leave the floor.”

Dennis Rodman, The Last Dance

If you know anything about Rodman’s biography, it’s not surprising he needed to get away from it all. Phil Jackson having an ear for it and not putting his ego in the equation when making this decision is what made that teamwork. Almost any other coach would’ve said no to Rodman and label him a problem.