Calling Dennis Rodman enigmatic is to sell short one of the most complicated athletes ever to tattoo himself on the public’s consciousness.
AUCTION PREVIEW: 1997-98 Dennis Rodman Game Worn Chicago Bulls Jersey with Unique Provenance. Worn on Christmas Day of Bulls’ sixth and final NBA Championship season to date!
He began his pro basketball career in 1986 as a shy, hardworking defensive stalwart. Joining the NBA as a second-round pick from tiny Southeastern Oklahoma State University, he initially seemed ill-suited for the game’s biggest stage. Yet his rebounding skills, relentless defense and boundless energy made him an integral cog in the Pistons’ back-to-back title teams. During this time, the public knew him only as a blue-collar player who shied away from the spotlight.
But, allow me this detour: I was a ballboy for the Dallas Mavericks in 1991. That year Rodman’s Pistons came to Reunion Arena as the reigning champs. Following the game, the ballboys huddled by the players’ exit hoping for an autograph, something we did after every game.
Most players breezed by, signing an autograph or two at most before loading onto the bus. The night Detroit was in town, Rodman, who’d grown up in Dallas, came out last. He stopped and signed for anyone who asked, in no hurry to leave. Eventually, a Detroit rep informed Rodman the bus was leaving. He responded, “That’s fine, I’m staying” and proceeded to hang out with us normal folks and fans, taking pictures and answering every question before he eventually departed for a late-night Denny’s dinner with some of the Reunion Arena custodial staff.
Rodman might have been a star. But he proved that night he was still capable of being one of us. In the coming years, of course, “The Worm” took a turn.
Following an aborted suicide attempt in 1993, Rodman’s reserved personality careened away like an errant jump shot, and he grasped a new, wilder persona with both hands. There was the dyed hair, yes, and the piercings and tattoos, all of which seemed far more outrageous in the mid-’90s than they do today. The biggest change was his seizing of the spotlight. The man of the people became A Man of The Moment.
That’s the Rodman we saw on ESPN’s The Last Dance – the baller who played hard on and off the court. The one who dated Carmen Elektra; who stole the spotlight at every party; who growled loudest into every microphone. The athlete had become entertainer had become pop-culture phenom.
Rodman could never Be Like Mike on the court, but he could be bigger than Michael Jordan off of it.
One of our consignors was enamored of this new Rodman.
She went to see the Miami Heat play the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day 1997. And she wanted far more than a game program as a keepsake. She wanted the jersey off Rodman’s back. Like, literally.
To get that gift, she crafted a poster detailing her Christmas wish with a skillfully rendered depiction of a shirtless Rodman. The ploy worked. Rodman saw the sign, and after his eight-point, 13-rebound game – which saw him dive into the stands for a loose ball (converting it into an assist to Steve Kerr) and banging under the boards all night with Heat center Alonzo Mourning — he bestowed upon this fan a sweat-drenched gamer.
That was the year Rodman posed in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography Bad as I Wanna Be – so he could marry himself. That was the Year of Madonna. But that was the same Dennis Rodman I saw when I was a ballboy, too – the guy who’d give you the shirt off his back and make a regular nobody feel like a special somebody, if only for a moment.