Before Dennis Rodman started winning titles in Chicago, the Worm caused quite a havoc donning the San Antonio Spurs jersey. So much so that when he left after two seasons, David Robinson couldn’t contain his excitement in turning a new chapter without Rodman.
No Dennis Rodman, no problems
Ahead of the 1995-96 NBA Season, the Spurs traded Rodman to the Bulls in exchange for Will Perdue. For the Bulls, the move was to fill in the void left by Horace Grant. They needed a beefier presence in the paint. For the Spurs, it was necessary as Rodman did more harm than good for the team. The Admiral expressed relief upon hearing the news.
“It was like a zoo last year. Now we’ll be able to just focus on basketball. There won’t be any of that other garbage. Everyone is relieved,” Robinson said, per Sports Illustrated.
Rodman’s first season with the Spurs went relatively smooth — at least with regard to Rodman’s behavior. He had his usual off-court antics, such as a highly-publicized affair with Madonna. Despite this, Rodman led the league in rebounds with 17.3 a night. The Spurs had a decent 55-27 regular season but bowed out in the first round to the Utah Jazz.
In Rodman’s second season with the Spurs, he started clashing with the front office. He was suspended for several games due to his behavior. Rodman was critical of head coach Bob Hill, whom he blamed for Hakeem Olajuwon’s scoring outburst in the playoffs. He also slammed Robinson for his inability to perform in big moments. Gregg Popovich, then the general manager, was also called out by Rodman.
The Spurs were the favorites to win it all after a stellar 62-20 regular season. But they choked big time against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, bowing out in six games.
A simple case of mismatch
With the benefit of hindsight, Rodman’s tiff with the Spurs was just a matter of cultural mismatch. With the Bulls, he immediately found success. Perhaps Rodman needed a figure like Jordan and Phil Jackson in his life. Besides, the Bulls were winning in the regular season and in the playoffs. Rodman really had nothing to complain about.
Meanwhile, after Rodman left San Antonio, the Spurs quietly went on a rebuild. They parted ways with Hill, then placed Popovich on the sidelines. They also drafted Wake Forest standout, Tim Duncan, as their first overall pick. As they say, the rest was history.