Rodman knew he had messed up. Pippen was out, and the Bulls needed him. Yet he wasn’t up to standard – his effort level wasn’t where it should be. But for someone so emotional, apologizing was a difficult task. The best he could do was to go to MJ’s room and ask for a cigar.
“He didn’t say an apology; he didn’t say anything. But by him coming to my room, it was his way of saying, ‘Look, I fu**** up.’”Michael Jordan, The Last Dance
A lot of men will recognize themselves in this moment from Episode 3 of The Last Dance. There’s a way of owning up to your mistakes with gestures more than words. When you get to know somebody, you know when that person is doing something that represents an apology. Dennis Rodman was great at that, sometimes even too good.
In an interview with Zach Lowe, Toni Kukoč talked about the Bulls and reminisced about the second three-peat. Rodman was one of his favorite teammates. Kukoč shared how shy Rodman was, sometimes quietly asking if he could join them for dinner. Most of the time, he was gone as soon as practice was over, disappearing into the night. But he had a way of making it up when he knew he went too far.
On one occasion, everyone found Christmas presents from Rodman waiting for them. It was a necklace to give to their wives or girlfriends. No explanation, no direct apology – but everyone knew what it was for. This was the Dennis his teammates knew and loved.
“We were like, ‘You’re killing us, Dennis, because this is nicer than what we are getting our own wives’”Steve Kerr, via ESPN
This was Rodman’s way of letting them know he understands he needs to do better. It also demonstrates the difficulty of building a team. Think of Rodman in San Antonio – that behavior didn’t fly. He would never have made it in such a structured environment. Phil Jackson understood Rodman needs his freedom to deal with the pressure.
Equally important, his teammates needed to understand it too. Not everyone got so much rope on the Bulls roster. Not from Phil, and not from Jordan. A lockerroom can easily split over a situation like someone flying off to Vegas for a mini-vacation – why wouldn’t you get a mini-vacation too?
As it is with most things in life – as much as we love to celebrate the individual, usually, it takes a village.