Dennis Rodman: Chicago's #1 Bad Boy

April 4, 2011

Here's the AP copy for the big story today:

Three men with ties to the Chicago Bulls are part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2011. Tex Winter was the innovator of the "Triangle" offense. He served as coach Phil Jackson's assistant on all six Bulls championship teams. He'll be joined in the Hall by longtime NBA and ABA star Artis Gilmore. Gilmore played 482 games for the Bulls during the 1970s and '80s. And also in this year's class is former Bull Dennis Rodman, who won championships with both the Detroit Pistons and Chicago.

For any Bulls fan, you have respect for what Tex Winter did. And we all remember the play of Artis Gilmore on some pretty awful Chicago Bulls teams in the 70s/early 80s. But to put Dennis Rodman as almost the afterthought in the lede paragraph, you are underselling him as not only a great Chicago basketball player, but as a great Chicagoan.

By the time Dennis Rodman came to Chicago, the Bulls were a bit in flux. Hard to believe, yes. They had just been bounced unceremoniously from the Eastern Conference Finals by the Orlando Magic. Even though Jordan had come out of retirement, fans and analysts alike were unsure if the Bulls could return to glory. That was until Jerry Krause went out and did the unthinkable: Signed 'Bad Boy' Dennis Rodman.

Rodman had worn out his welcome in San Antonio. He seemed to care more about his fledgling personality (new hair!) and his national celebrity than helping the Spurs win a championship. So when the Spurs were willing to part with the troublesome power forward, the Bulls swooped in. But as you remember, that was a very controversial move.

See, Dennis Rodman didn't leave a great impression on Bulls fans from his days in Detroit:

When Rodman came to Chicago, we all worried about the chemistry. We also had a hard time (at first) wanting to root for such a Chicago sports villian. Jordan and Pippen put out fires with tepid media sound bites, but we were all worried. But when the Bulls went out in 1996/97 and won 72 games and dominated the NBA like no other team ever has, all worries were put to rest. And there was Rodman at the center of the storm. It still baffles the mind that this circus sideshow act was embraced in a town like Chicago. Why? Rodman worked hard.

But it wasn't that Rodman won championships that made Chicago fall in love with him.  It was the journey that made us smitten. We all knew Jordan and Pippen were out and about, socializing. Every friend had a story about how Jordan walked through a downtown bar or how Pippen didn't tip waiters and bartenders, but it wasn't until Rodman came to town that we embraced ballplayers like one of our own. Friends would tell stories of seeing Rodman at Crowbar. News crews showed kicker stories of Rodman dancing at rave-like clubs. His billboard on the side of the Bigsby and Kurothers building along the Kennedy caused so many gapers delays and accidents that the city had to shut it down. This basketball player was more than the sport, he was a full fledged larger-than-life Chicago celebrity. He raised his profile in a new way, not in newspapers, charity golf outings and local TV, but by word of mouth. Young Chicago identified and adored his anti-establishment, social pariah ways. He was one of us (with a lot of money and no qualms about spending it).

On the court, he was the main attraction. His on-court theatrics were the ying to MJ's yang. We all watched for different reasons. We watched Jordan for excellence. We watched Rodman for antics.

Here are a few clips from YouTube from Rodman's antics on the court. Was it detremental behavior? You betcha. But it still ranks as the most entertaining moments in the history of Chicago sports:

5) Rodman vs. Shaq: Rodman tangles with LA Laker Center Shaquille O'Neal. In this famous clip, Rodman is choked to the floor by teammates Jordan & Pippen.

4) Barkley v. Rodman: Rodman had a flair for the theatrics and his best attribute was getting under opposite players' skin:

3) Rodman takes off shirt, head butts the referee: This one resulted in a long suspension and was the reason he was able to do all the media about his life in Chicago (I remember there being a Dateline piece about him partying).

2) Rodman vs. Brickowski: Frank Brickowski was the Seattle Supersonics' thug who came in during the '96 Finals to get under Dennis Rodman's skin. Did it work? Maybe, but in this clip - classic Rodman - Dennis makes the best of the situation:

And finally, just for Bulls fans. The introduction we will never forget:

When you put Dennis Rodman's name into our Getty images account, several photos from European dance clubs come back, complete with nude women.

Here's a look at his life post-NBA

That's the Rodman we try to forget. But for Bulls fans and regular Chicagoans who lived through the Rodman years in the Windy City, we say thanks for the memories. You did what basketball truly is designed to do: Create clever diversions from our mundane existences.

Here's to Dennis Rodman: You will always be known as a Piston, but you are truly Chicago's #1 Bad Boy.