After Rodman took a Las Vegas vacation and went AWOL, the Bulls probably weren’t too happy when he bailed on them during the ’98 Finals. The Last Dance was in its final act, and Dennis Rodman decided to skip practice to participate in WCW Nitro. Yep, he went to hang out with Hulk Hogan.
The team had learned to expect things like these from Dennis, but their public nature created extra problems they didn’t need. Rodman didn’t just miss practice, but a mandatory NBA media session. Phil Jackson got him on the phone to try and figure out what to do.
“I talked to Dennis, and he did not speak. He said to my assistant trainer he didn’t think he could make it down here in time for the press conference. I asked him, ‘Dennis, what should I say to the press?’ and he hung up on me.’”Phil Jackson, via The Washington Post
As frustrating and concerning his behavior was, the team couldn’t stop him, and teammates couldn’t criticize him – despite all that, Rodman was performing on the court. WCW Nitro happened after Game 3. A historic game in which the Bulls won 96 – 54. That was the best defensive performance in the Finals since the shot clock was introduced in 1954! Did the partying affect his Game 4 performance?
That’s right; when Rodman was on him, The Mailman didn’t deliver. It’s hard to say anything to a player who has a spectacular defensive performance and had the second-best +/-, behind Toni Kukoč. There was only one thing Jackson could do.
“The much-maligned Dennis Rodman had a wonderful game tonight. He redeemed himself. His defense on Karl was great. Dennis did a job on him.”Phil Jackson, via The Washington Post
Jordan said he came to accept that it’s almost impossible to understand Rodman. As MJ put it, “One day he’s wrestling, the next day he’s defending.” Most importantly for Jordan, whatever he’s been up to, Rodman shows up on the court, particularly in big moments. That’s why Jackson was so calm about WCW Nitro. After Game 1, Rodman flew from Salt Lake City to Vegas. Everyone was making a big deal out of it, but The Zen Master had a simple explanation of why that was a good thing.
“It’s better than him hanging around this town and upsetting some Mormons.”Phil Jackson, via The Washington Post
P.S. One other reason they couldn’t take stricter action will probably get covered in future episodes of The Last Dance. If Jordan could gamble all night in Atlantic City during the Finals, why couldn’t Rodman party? We are in for a ride.