In descending order of athletes that if I was forced to fight, I would shrivel down to the cradle position the fastest, Dennis Rodman leads the pack, followed by O.J, Bernard King, and Blake Griffin in that KIA commercial. So what logical reason would someone have to bait Rodzilla at a time he was leaving basketball to join NWO and party in Las Vegas? Australian Chris Anstey opens up about that faithful night on Code.
Nothing like playing Michael in ‘98
According to Anstey, playing against the 90’s Bulls, led by the player “who transcended basketball,” was more than a big deal. As Anstey describes that “in some way, I hoped we would get blown-out and I would get some junk minutes near the end of the game before Jordan got substituted out. Certainly not my finest thought, but logical”.
It wouldn’t be until the second half that the unproven rookie would step in, as Mavericks head coach Don Nelson told him, ‘you’ve got Rodman. Niggle him on the glass, get your fingers on rebounds and passes, use your length to trap Jordan if he catches it in the post’. This didn’t make Anstey's nerves fade a fraction, especially after the great Michael Jordan fouled him in front of his entire family and friends in the stands.
To this day, Anstey contends that he “had never been so nervous walking to the free-throw line and my first shot revealed my anxiety. It was a brick. A brick!”. However, the statistics later indicated that he was not the only nervous Maverick out there. The entire team, up to that point, was 1-11 from the free-throw line. But as Anstey and the hundreds of other players could attest to, “that was the impact the Bulls’ aura held. Every second felt like it was high pressure”.
Oh oh, not Rodman
The struggling Mavericks went down as far as 17 points, putting more pressure to change rotations and gamble Anstey on Rodman. But the rookie never took that moment for granted.
“Dennis Rodman and I had been niggling each other all night. Well, I had been niggling, he had been rebounding and playing in his typically physical manner, recalled Anstey. “He was so tough to guard. He did not even look for his own shot, but he never stopped moving, screening, and working for rebounding position”, he followed.
During their tussle for position down low, the refs called a foul on Rodman, but as Anstey puts it, “I still had my elbows raised to protect the ball, and I pivoted. Hard. I knew where his head was. I wanted him to know I knew. I swung my elbow, and stopped, right at his ear”.
Except that there was contact made, just not enough to rock The Worm. Mixed that with a growing Mavericks comeback - up four with 1:28 to go, Anstey beginning to chirp up at the unhinged Hall of Famer - Rodman had enough. Anstey recollected that Rodman “wanted to suck me into an unsportsmanlike foul. I laughed. Smiled right in his face. How stupid do you think I am? We were both hit with a technical foul. No harm”.
A moment to cherish
The Mavericks won the game after a costly 5-second violation from Scottie Pippen. Not many players could say they were on the floor and beat the greatest. Anstey speaks of it like it was yesterday, “we had just beaten the Chicago Bulls. I had just played in a game of basketball that Michael Jordan had also played in. And won!... Our win-loss record to finish the 1997-98 season was 20-62. The Bulls would finish their regular season at 62-20 and go on to win their sixth NBA Championship”, but that wouldn’t matter on that late March night.
Anstey worked his whole life to tell a story that he believes serves as great motivation. For “as long as the ‘one’ exists in ‘one in a million’, what is to say it can’t happen on the first time? Or the next time? What if we allow ourselves to be naive enough to believe that there is always a chance? Then there is always a chance… I got the type of moment that comes at a time we least expect. If we are willing to do the work”, said Anstey.
No one can ever take that away from him.