Nicknamed the Worm, Dennis Rodman had innate and uncanny abilities to work his way underneath an opponent’s skin. Physically, he’d grab, twist, trip, bump, and thump you. Mentally he’d put on a smile reminiscent of the Cheshire cat and mention the most ridiculous things to throw you off your game. If you finally tired of his antics and swung a blow, Rodman would just wrap you up in his embrace. The hug didn’t work to simmer opponents down. In fact it had the exact opposite effect.
The fact you couldn’t knock out one of his teeth was yet another infuriating disgrace Rodman visited upon you.
This physical and mental battle was Rodman’s way of exploiting every last bit of his talent. A marvellous defender and miraculous rebounder, Rodman didn’t need the hijinks to be a great player. The strange games he played, nonetheless served to make him a legend. Your mental preoccupation with his behavior ultimately led to physical degradation of your play and gave the Rodman the decisive edge.
Or perhaps the Worm was so unstable with opponents because he was so unstable with himself. A personality quirk that by happenstance, and not design, served to sometimes enhance his skills. And left unchecked the quirks would be just as deleterious to Dennis as it was to opponents.
Rodman didn’t enter college until age 22 and the NBA until age 25 after a rough early life. Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly connected with Rodman and brought out the best in him. Daly would use Dennis masterfully as a defensive powerhouse off the bench. These Bad Boys of Detroit gave Rodman the appropriate structure to be free. Variously guarding opponents like Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Scottie Pippen, Rodman gave the Pistons an indispensable edge and helped them capture two titles. In 1990 at 30 years of age, Rodman was starting for an NBA team for the first time, was an All-Star, and was named Defensive Player of the Year.
For a large part of the 1990s, though, Rodman lacked the structure to truly be free.
The Pistons waned and faded as Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and other stalwarts aged. Daly was ousted as coach in 1992 and Rodman began going out of his way, in often embarrassing fashion, in his quest to grab every rebound available. In 1993, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, and he was a fish out of water flopping around on bone dry land. He was somewhat of a sideshow as “mainstream” media focused on his ever-changing hair color and growing number of tattoos.
The Spurs experiment was finally ended after the 1995 season. San Antonio traded Rodman to the Chicago Bulls for Will Perdue. With Phil Jackson, Rodman again found a coach who could erect the structure that supported the better natures of Rodman’s personality and game.
He still dyed his hair and donned a wedding dress, but his on-court actions were once again as notable as his off-court engagements. The Worm helped the Bulls achieve the best regular season record in NBA history in 1996 with 72 wins. He played a pivotal role in the second three-peat of the Jordan-Pippen Era. These seasons helped reaffirm Rodman’s place as one of the NBA’s premier defenders and rebounders who could actually help his team win.
That notion had been lost in his latter days in Detroit and during his San Antonio sojourn.
At this point in his life, Rodman is now famous for just being famous… or for acting in terrible movies… or for being the house guest of North Korean dictators. But decades ago, Rodman became noteworthy, distinguished, and, yes, famous for what he was able to do on a basketball court. By being himself, he daringly became an NBA star based on defensive glamor.
Years Played: 1986 – 2000
5x Champion (1989-’90, 1996-’98)
2x Defensive Player of the Year (1990-’91)
7x All-Defensive 1st Team (1989-’93, 1995-’96)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1994)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1992, 1995)
2x All-Star (1990, 1992)
NBA – 911 Games
7.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 52.1% FG, 58.4% FT
7x RPG Leader (1992-’98), FG% Leader (1989)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1986-87 through 1997-98 season)
1st Rebounds, 1st RPG
17th FG%, 33rd Blocks
20th Games Played, 25th Minutes Played