Note: Originally this post was about the lost art of rebounding, but once I wrote it, and got to the man who made rebounding cool, that post was scrapped and in its place is an ode to the greatest rebounder of my lifetime and one of the most dominant power forwards who ever lived.
Around these parts, we like to pay homage to the legends of the game. There are times when a legend is clear (Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Manny Ramirez, Pedro), and there are times when we get called out for making someone a legend too soon (Cliff Lee, LeBron, Gilbert Arenas). The thing that makes this so good is we can define what a legend is for us.
However, there’s a man who is a legend that simply should not be debated, and he attained his status by being the greatest rebounder in my lifetime, one of the most wily defenders, and easily one of the main players who lived up to the IDGAF Philosophy more than any athlete who has ever lived. That man is none other than The Worm, Dennis Rodman.
Growing up as a Chicago Bulls fan, I was programmed to hate the Detroit Pistons, which meant I was programmed to hate Rodman. The man used to punk just about anyone who was on the opposing team and for years, it would bug the hell out of me. The fact that he was from Dallas was irrelevant, because he kept punking Scottie Pippen and the rest of the Chicago Bulls frontline. At the tender age of eight years old, I was to the point where I wanted Dennis Rodman out of my basketball-watching life forever.
This started to change in 1993. Once he got to San Antonio, it meant he was no longer in the East, which was fine by me. His personality started to show even more, he got tatted up, and he also started rocking a Simon Phoenix. Even then though, it was obvious the man was a hell of a basketball player and someone that any championship team would love to have, and as fate would have it, he wound up playing with Jordan, Pippen, and the rest of the Bulls in 1995.
By the time he got there, I was older and was able to see the little things that made The Worm so cold. The man could get position under the basket better than anyone in the game. He knew how to keep the ball alive, he kept people away from him, and he wasn’t scared to guard anybody.
It wasn’t like Rodman was this monster of a man; dude was probably 6’7/210, but he would lock down bigger forwards, towering centers, and if he got bored enough, he’d go guard a wing. The man averaged damn near 19 rebounds a game in Detroit, 17 in San Antonio, and 15 in Chicago. Let that sink in for a minute...
The man easily could dominate a game without scoring, which is rare in today's NBA. Plus, it was in Chicago when The Worm starting wearing the #91 jersey (Bob Love rocked #10 for the Bulls, so that was out of the question), and not only that, he made that number live! #91 in basketball?!?!?! People wanted to wear that jersey and you would see it all over the place. It was unreal.
The man would put on a show for anyone who came to see the Bulls play, and you can even make the case that people came to see Rodman (albeit for different reasons) with an enthusiasm that was supposed to be reserved only for Jordan. The man would toss his jersey to a fan after the game, give dap to people in the crowd as he ran up the sidelines, and just had a blast playing the game. There was rarely a time when a power forward dominated him, and outside of Shawn Kemp in the ’96 Finals, I can’t think of anyone who ever really humiliated him.
Rodman was just what the Bulls needed in those later years; he seemed to be the only one who just relaxed when he hooped, and never really took himself, or anything else, seriously. The man made diving for a loose ball a thing of beauty, yet would shoot a free throw with about as much passion as someone changing a light bulb. The man was complex in his simplicity.
The man would shoot a three, clang it off the side of the backboard, and shrug his shoulders like he didn’t give a damn, only to come back down and launch another, only this time, it would go in, and the man would jump around like he was in church on First Sunday. He’s the only player who flopped like crazy who I never really got angry with for doing it, because it wasn’t like he was a punk. More so, he did it, just to get under his opponent’s skin.
There’s no telling how his teammates took it, but fans loved it, and looking back at those times, we appreciate it even more. He played some more for the Mavericks and Lakers, but by then, he had already made his imprint on the game as one of the most colorful, loquacious, exciting, and enigmatic athletes to ever compete in professional sports, let alone basketball.
For all the knocks on Rodman, the man has five rings, and did more than his fair share to help his teams earn them. The players in today’s NBA better be thankful they don’t have to see Dennis Rodman out there, because if they did, it’s safe to say they would want no part of him on that court, whatsoever.
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