It’s funny to think about it, but Pop’s first move as the Spurs GM was to create the Bulls second run. Soon after getting the job he traded Rodman to the Bulls for Will Perdue. Thus started the Spurs way. Rodman was a monster next to Robinson, had over 19 rebounds per game but his behavior and attitude just didn’t work with the vision of the team (via Undeniable with Joe Buck).
He hated me, he hated me, he hated my guts because I wasn’t a bible guy. They looked at me like I’m the devil. Then I started acting out again because they don’t want me here. Am I the same guy that helped David Robinson get the scoring title and MVP? Am I the same guy that averaged 19.3 rebounds for you? Am I the same guy we won 68 damn games (with)? Am I that same guy there, but you guys don’t like me. OK, trade me. Of course, they traded me to the damn Bulls.
Rodman was obviously still at his prime, which he showed on the Bulls in the next three years. That is the sacrifice you make when building a culture. The Spurs felt he didn’t fit in and they valued the culture above his production and fit next to Robinson. A bold move from a new GM. The Spurs never pretended it was about his performance on the court, here’s David Robinson on Rodman (via Undeniable with Joe Buck):
I love Dennis, I really do. He is an unbelievable player. Incredibly athletic, he was like Superman. Just a freak of nature, the guy can run all day long, never got tired. Was like the energizer bunny. I loved having him next to me on the court cause you always felt you have a warrior with you. So, on the court he’s a great guy to have next to you, in the locker room that’s a little different story. He marches to the beat of his own drum.
Truth be told, Rodman’s metamorphosis started when he came to the Spurs. Inspired by Wesley Snipes in “Demolition man” he showed up to the first game with blond hair, which was followed with red, purple and blue. He had a very public relationship with Madonna and was difficult to communicate with. He felt like the locker room didn’t like him and he alienated himself. That’s where Jack Haley came in. At first glance a complete opposite to Rodman, Haley told the story of how he got through to Dennis (via The New York Times):
I sat next to him three weeks and never spoke to him one time. I tried several times for conversation and got zero in response. But through playing and practice and hitting each other, it started. I talked to him in games and got up in his ear about rebounding and how many rebounds he had and going for the rebound title. We slowly started to communicate.
Then one night, he and his girlfriend asked my wife and I if we wanted to go grab a drink and he took us to a gay bar. I think he wanted to try to shock me, see how straight and narrow I was. They had male dancers, you know? So I shocked him and slipped the guy a buck in his G-string.
Haley continued to explain that despite being an individualist, Rodman would cooperate if you didn’t sugarcoat things or go behind his back. Just look him in the eye and tell it like it is. It was obvious that an Air Force graduate Gregg Popovich and Navy Lieutenant David Robinson were not the kind of crowd that would understand and mesh well with Rodman. They tried, having a special set of more loose rules for Rodman (for instance, everyone ad to be in the locker room at 6 pm on game night; Rodman just had to be there for the tip-off) among other things, but it just didn’t work out.
The Spurs played without him, eventually tanked and drafted Tim Duncan. Rodman went to Chicago and won 3 with MJ and Scottie. How a wild character shapes an era in the NBA.
P.S. An assistant coach on the Spurs at the time? Thomas Joseph Thibodeau Jr., one more to be added to the Pop coaching tree.