CHICAGO — A foul was whistled on the play and Dennis Rodman disagreed with the call, so he whipped the ball at the shot clock.
He knew what came next. The referee called Rodman for a technical foul. It was a preseason game, his first since being traded to the Chicago Bulls before the 1995 season. The previous year with the Spurs taught him it was time to look toward the sidelines next. Then-Spurs coach Bob Hill would already have a disappointed dad look on his face and another player ready to check in the game.
Rodman was surprised in this instance when he looked toward the Bulls sidelines. Phil Jackson was on the bench, kicked back in his chair, laughing.
“I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t excepting that. I wasn’t ready for it. Somebody understands. A coach who understands,” Rodman says in his 1996 autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be”. “One thought came to my mind, finally.”
Rodman’s story — as he explains in an autobiography where the cover art features a naked Rodman sitting on the motorcycle, ghostwritten by Tim Keown — is one of misunderstanding.
It is, perhaps, the biggest theme of this book, that nobody really understood him — that his actions were fueled by wanting to be a “whole individual,” as he called it, and did not want to conform to anyone’s idea of who he was supposed to be.
This book offers a raw and real insight inside the head of one of the NBA’s biggest enigmas, filled with contradictions and rambling as he walks the reader through the path that brought him to Chicago and a starring role in the Bulls’ second three-peat. The next episode of ESPN’s hit documentary series “The Last Dance” seems almost certain to offer more into what made Rodman tick, but this book offered a pretty candid window inside one of basketball’s most complex characters.
Rodman knew his value to the Bulls lied in his willingness to do “the dirty work,” which he came to pride himself on during his 14 seasons in the NBA. Everybody wanted to score, as Rodman put it, but few wanted to do the grunt work — rebounding and playing the kind of hard-nosed defense Rodman embraced. It’s why he cried the first time he won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, he knew he had set out to do something and became the best.
The Bulls had already retired No. 10 for Bob Love when they acquired Rodman in exchange for Will Perdue, “a guy with no game” as an offended Rodman calls him. So he chose 91. The numbers added up to 10, after all, but also were the first two numbers of an emergency.
“Who do you call to put out the fire?” Rodman asks rhetorically.
The idea that Rodman considered himself the answer is ironic because of his many self-made fires.
As Rodman takes the reader throughout his basketball life, he offers prospective on life and on issues such as race and sex. And his thoughts about the dynamic between NBA players and executives are, in some ways, ahead of their time.
“They want robots who can dunk,” Rodman writes.
He adds later: “I want to challenge people’s (imagination) of what an athlete is supposed to be.”
The book’s opening is a testament to that statement. Rodman is sitting in the back of his pickup truck contemplating suicide in 1993. He’d been married and divorced in less than three months. He had won two NBA championships, but still felt unfulfilled. He felt like one person on the outside and another on the inside. Instead of taking his life, however, Rodman pointed to that night as where he killed “the other Dennis” and started to become himself.
Later on, Rodman goes writes that he is still discovering himself and there are sides he still doesn’t know, waiting to be discovered. Rodman spends his career believing he is misunderstood, but often struggles to put his own feelings into words.
Rodman famously wore a wedding dress to promote this autobiography, announcing he intended to marry himself. In the book, he broaches the topic of his sexuality, including having sex with Madonna on the first night they met. And then he proceeds to talk about his bisexuality in some confusing terms. He admits to some form of attraction to men, but then calls himself only “mentally bisexual” because he had not yet acted on his attraction.
Further discussing his dating life, Rodman acknowledges that he has been involved with almost exclusively white women, which leads into a rather clumsy exploration of race, with tired tropes about being color neutral or not thinking about color.
Whatever topic he dives into, Rodman continues to circle back to his desire to be seen as a total person — even while he expresses a want to get naked on the court during his final game in the NBA as a parting shot.
Rodman’s career with the Bulls was a whirlwind as “The Last Dance” is set to explore on Sunday.
The Bulls were a team ready to implode at the start of the 1997-98 season, and Rodman’s antics would continue to impact that fragile nature, including his decision to leave for a wrestling match with Hulk Hogan in the middle of the NBA Finals. But he continued to produce on the court.
Through it all, Rodman always felt welcome and attributed a lot of that to Jackson. He missed 12 games with a calf injury at the start of his first season with the Bulls, but Jackson never rushed him back. Rodman liked Jackson because he was, in his words, a human being.
“I found out from the start he’s going to let me go,” Rodman writes. “He’s not as worried about distractions because look at who he’s been coaching all these years. The Bulls know about distractions and they know how to play through them.”
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