A while ago, Dennis Rodman said he wouldn’t have any problems guarding LeBron James simply because he only has a few moves in his repertoire which are easily guardable. Rodman, throughout his career, established himself as one of the best rebounders and defenders in NBA history, capable of shutting down players on multiple positions. We saw him shut down guards, forwards, and centers, and for everyone that watched him dismantle people on defense, it was somewhat a surprise because he did it regularly against the best players in the league.
Gilbert Arenas also recently talked about a matchup between LeBron and Rodman, saying there is no way he would stop him simply because Rodman could only effectively guard players playing with their backs to the basket. Former NBA player and Rodman’s teammate on the Detroit Pistons, John Salley, somewhat disagreed with that statement simply because he had the opportunity to see firsthand what Rodman was all about and how he was truly a unique physical specimen.
However, Salley does admit that the change in rules throughout the years that benefits offense rather than defense would in some way impact Rodman’s ability to play the game in a way he was used to, especially on defense.
The hand checking changed everything. The physical play to be able to touch like that, they got rid of that because that would work in Dennis’s favor. On the Pistons, we didn’t call Dennis The Worm; we called him the big men. Big men that could guard Hakeem but Dennis was the fastest player, fastest runner. He was an unbelievable physical specimen to play basketball. Anyone that knows basketball will tell you that about Dennis.John Salley, via djvlad
Salley has a lot of respect for LeBron because he embodies a bit of everything from all the great players that came before him. However, in that fantasy matchup, the rules would play a big part. Salley made a good point saying the league evolved tremendously, and they now prefer to have games with more points in which trash-talking and physicality is no longer allowed in the same manner that it used to be. Playing physical and using different types of mind games was one reason Rodman was so successful back in the day. Those tactics gave him an edge against most NBA players no matter which position they played if they had Rodman guarding them.
There wasn’t anyone like LeBron, and I say that. The difference is the referees and NBA changing its way. They are not caring about defense; they want more points because the NBA sport now is focused on international play, not the down, dirty in which the east coast is physical, and the west coast is finesse. That mentality of what the NBA used to be is no longer. I think Dennis would guard him greatly, but the one person I saw that Dennis had problems with was the Reign Man. That was a different way of playing too. You can’t check people now; you can’t put your forearm on them; you can’t drive them to something. You just can’t play the way we used to play.John Salley, via djvlad
Rodman had the size and strength to slow down LeBron, even though not many players in the league now can say the same. LeBron is a freak of nature in his own right, but basketball is a mind game more than anything else, which Rodman regularly used to his advantage. The question of whether he would actually shut down LeBron depends on the rules that would be in play. If we’re going by today’s rules, there is a big possibility Rodman would foul out or get ejected in a short period of time. On the other hand, if we’re going by the old-school rules, LeBron would have to work extremely hard for every point, and his life on the court would be tough with Rodman all over him.