Bigger than basketball: Why Dennis Rodman was the king of the 90s
A taste for the wild side, a thirst for the theatrical, an unabashed understanding of who Dennis Rodman was, and what he had to do to stay sane.
Dennis Rodman was one of the top NBA players in the 90s, but his persona was larger than basketball.
Rodman was an intrinsic piece of the fabric of the decade, and by now sitting in an era where cameras catch everything celebrities do, one can’t help but wonder how Rodman would have faired if his hottest years occurred during the advent of the smartphone.
The Last Dance gave us a taste of Rodman’s antics, but there was a lot more the enigmatic, fabled “Worm” did behind the scenes of the documentary team that we want to dive into.
Eccentric, spirited, savage, Dennis Rodman was all of these and much more. He wasn’t the cultural icon of the 90s that Jordan was, the larger-than-life emblem of always doing the right thing.
He was the icon for those that liked to be different, and in the grungey era of the 90s, this wasn’t exactly unpopular.
Rodman started off the 90s by winning a second chip with the Pistons. And in 1991/92, Rodman collected an absurd 18.7 rebounds per game.
After head coach and father-figure-to-him Chuck Daly resigned from the Pistons, Rodman’s time with the franchise was just about done. And then his brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs sputtered out. It was widely thought that Rodman and his antics no longer had a place in the league.
Man was that wrong. Rodman said in the mid-90s,
“Most people around the country, or around the world, are basically working people who want to be free, who want to be themselves. They look at me and see someone trying to do that… I’m the guy who’s showing people, hey, it’s all right to be different. And I think they feel, ‘Let’s go and see this guy entertain us.'”
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Bulls GM Jerry Krause took a chance on Rodman, relying on the championship pedigree of Head Coach Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He was right to take that chance.
Rodman won three more rings with the Bulls, playing an integral role on those teams and establishing himself as a small-ball center when the Bulls went small. The original death lineup.
But off the court, Rodman was winning too. He dated Madonna, he dated Carmen Electra. And according to her, one day they had sex all over the entire Bulls practice facility.
“It was crazy, like two kids in a candy store. We were eating Popsicles from the fridge and pretty much having sex all over the damn place — in the physical therapy room, in the weight room. Obviously on the court,” said Electra.
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Electra was an up-and-coming actress and Playboy model at the time, and she and Rodman actually were briefly married from 1998-1999. The love was evident, it was genuine, and the two were living it up from Cali to Vegas to Chicago and everywhere in between.
During the 1998 NBA Finals, Rodman even skipped the Bulls’ practice to join nWo (New World Order) at one of their events. It doesn’t get much more 90s than that.
Rodman wanted to keep himself stimulated, he wanted to excite himself and his life every single day. With this foundation present, he was going to break some rules, ruffle some feathers, turn some people the wrong way.
But everything he did, he did 100 percent. That was clear on the court. And you can’t talk about workhorses in NBA history without bringing up “The Worm.”
And it was clear off the court, with his partying, traveling, and eccentric lifestyle.
The 90s are aptly romanticized for many reasons. The golden age of hip hop, as some see it, the grungey sound of rock, the birth of new and exciting technologies as Y2K approached. And realistically, Rodman is a hallmark of this era, as a man who is unapologetically himself.
The Worm continues to excite us, and so undoubtedly himself too. But we will always think of him as a titan of 90s swag and flavor.