Episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance were as riveting, informative, and memory-evoking as the record-breaking premiere eps.
The night played out as an introduction of Dennis Rodman to the Millenials and post-millennials. A reintroduction for basketball heads old enough to have witnessed hoops in the classic 80s and 90s. Rodman was the vaunted antagonizer, an expert at psychological and physical warfare who also exemplified a spirit, slithery hustle, and dominating board game that earned him the moniker, “The Worm.”
His uniqueness as a person and player puts Rodman in his own category in the annals of NBA greats. For all of the ego and bravado that eventually surfaced, he was able to suppress his desire to score for the glory of team accolades.
The story of Rodman and his contributions to two Bad Boy Detroit Pistons championships and three Chicago Bulls titles often gets lost when people start discussing Pippen and Jordan or Isiah and Dumars. The kids of today aren’t well versed on the flamboyant, multi-hair color rocking, night club hopping, model and actress dating, Vegas vampin’, earring and tattoo drowning celebrity, whose tremendous impact achieved him the status of the greatest pound-for-pound defensive force in NBA history.
I’m talking rebounding or on-ball defending. Pick your poison. Rodman grew up with a lot of demons and it took him a while to find his way in the world, but he was able to do that through basketball in a small school in Oklahoma. He gained his toughness, championship pedigree, and his ability to fit into a system by doing much of the dirty work for a Detroit dynasty that delayed the NBA’s preferred brand transition from Magic and Larry Bird to MJ.
Fighting, scrapping, and freakishly leaping towards every rebound and loose ball, Rodman had a tenaciousness combined with a savant understanding of the way certain players’ shots came off the rim after its release. His understanding of rebounding principles can be likened to Tony Gwynn’s scientific mastery of hitting.
That’s what made Rodman such an enigma. He transitioned from a humble but feisty player with the Pistons to a clout chasing, emotional roller coaster playing in the shadows of MJ and Pippen, but still doing whatever it took to establish a celebrity space of his own.
Even if it meant being the rebel and taking time off in the middle of the season to hang out in Vegas with Carmen Electra or rondevu with Madonna when she was at the apex of her fame.
He was ahead of his time. Open about his fashion and forward yet mysterious about his sexuality.
Chicago GM Jerry Kraus understood where Rodman could benefit the Bulls as far as toughness and defense. Phil Jackson was the perfect Zenmaster to handle an increasingly eccentric personality like Rodman and Jordan’s will to win and confidence in himself didn’t have time to stress Dennis’ antics as long as he showed up and showed out with the chip on the line.
And Rodman always did. He was just built differently. He made himself into a larger than life personality. We’ve never seen a player average 7.3 ppg for his career and still captivate the basketball world. Transcend the game, even.
From 1992-98, Rodman averaged 16.7 rebounds per game. He averaged 13.1 per game for his career. In today’s NBA, a guy who rarely averaged double digits in scoring could never reach Rodman’s height of popularity and championship pedigree. He’s a true phenomenon.
The ultimate role player. So efficient at executing his role that he was allowed a superstar’s tantrums, fines, prima donna flex and all. Rodman definitely got his money’s worth.
In his post-career, Rodman burst back into national news due to his controversial relationship with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who has been in the news lately as reports about his failing health continue to make waves as the US Government attempts to find out his true condition.
Rodman became known as an unofficial ambassador to North Korea, visiting the country numerous times to kick it with the dictator and bridge relations between the countries at the same time.
Believe it or not, Rodman is one of the most influential people ever to grace an NBA court. The Last Dance documentary took the proper time to reflect on his career and impact and why he was so integral to the Bulls’ second three-peat and so unique as an individual.