If there ever was a living example of the expression “a double-edged sword’”, Dennis Rodman would probably be it. I mean, between being an NBA Hall of Famer, an above average socialite and a globetrotter, you’d think he’d have a lot of positives going for him. But then there’s the fact that he has struggled mightily with substance abuse and has never seemed to get a solid grip on his finances. Besides all that, Rodman has done (and still does) a few nutty things that put us on the fence about how we feel about him. For example, picking up and heading out to North Korea doesn’t seem like the kind of activity most people would view as “fun”. Nonetheless, the road has been long and interesting for a man that some gawk at, but that some also seem to worship. But before we can even try to understand the most polarizing star to emerge from the NBA, we need to understand how he became what we see now.
It’s Hasn’t Always Been Fun and Games
Before the piercings, the tattoos, the hair colours and the basketball fame, there was Dennis Keith Rodman from Trenton, New Jersey. Born into a home with two sisters, Rodman’s father soon left his family, which in turn forced Dennis’s mother to move to Dallas with her children. After graduating high school, colleges did not come calling right away. Dennis jumped from job to job, even working as a janitor at the airport in Dallas. When he wasn’t working, the 6’7’’ Rodman would be perfecting his true passion: basketball. He would practice at any and all local courts. Eventually, Dennis got his shot with Cooke County Junior College in Gainesville, Texas, and then with South-Eastern Oklahoma State. After going in the second round of the 1986 NBA draft to the Detroit Pistons, he embarked on a career the basketball world would never forget.
Dennis and the Bright Lights
After winning two titles in 1989 and 1990 with the Pistons and making a multitude of All-Star teams, Rodman ended up in Chicago after a brief stint in San Antonio. There, he became a legend. During his stay with the Bulls, Dennis became one of the best rebounders of all time and won three consecutive titles with the likes of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.
To illustrate just how dominant Rodman was, we don’t need to look much further than his numbers. From 1991 to 1995, he led the league in rebounds per game (RPG) in four out of five seasons. Night in and night out he would patrol the low post, and he accumulated a career RPG average of 13.1. That would probably explain how Rodman ended up on seven All-Defensive First Teams from 1989 to 1993, and then from 1995 to 1996. He was also named the NBA’s rebounding champion for six consecutive years from 1992 to 1998. “The Worm’s” defensive prowess and his off-the-court appearances earned him an approximate career salary of $50 million and a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
However, rebounds and championships were only a part of Rodman’s calling card. He frequently went from exotic hair color to exotic hair color, and regularly flaunted his relationships with celebrities like Madonna. But that all pales in comparison to what really lay beneath the surface. Rodman had been found asleep in his car in a parking lot in 1993 with a loaded gun on his lap, which brought up questions about whether or not he was suicidal. It was no secret that he had his issues with substance abuse during his career, but nobody expected things to go that far. His struggles with alcohol and drugs also caused him to burn through lots of his money. Rodman wasted so much of his earnings that he could barely pay for the $1 million he owed in back child support back in 2012. He also recently checked himself into rehab as CNN explains.
The Man Some Hate and Some Love
It’s not because of the money, but rather because of something intangible that some of us still love, and to some degree envy Dennis Rodman. It’s rather because of his generalized disregard of social conventions and strong independent spirit that we respect him. Who doesn’t wish they could dye their hair a bright orange and just not care what others think? But besides superficial things like physical appearance, many love Rodman for his big heart. Through the years, he has contributed much to communities through the way of charities such as PETA, AIDS LIFE and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
While some may say that hair colors and piercings are trivial things, Dennis pushes his irreverence to another level. He became infamous to a whole new degree after visiting North Korea for the first time in February of 2013. He has totalled four visits to the country, and made comments on his return to the effect that Kim Jong Un was misunderstood, and that he was truly a nice man. Even more recently, Rodman was in Korea to celebrate the supreme leader’s birthday. He brought with him members of the Harlem Globetrotters, and sat back and enjoyed a basketball game. It’s these types of antics that have drawn him the ire of many people. In an interview with CNN, Rodman implied that an American missionary being detained in North Korea was at fault for his offenses. After returning from his latest trip, Rodman apologized profusely for not being able to help the detained missionary.
It is understandable that so many people express a certain level of disgust with this man. I mean, anybody who dyes his hair weird colors and happens to have one of the world’s most tensely watched leaders on speed dial is sure to draw the wrong kind of attention. Oh, that and the fact that going through the metal detector at the airport takes him at least an hour doesn’t help.
But beyond all that, Rodman has a charm to him, a ‘’je ne sais quoi’’ that many fans feel, but can’t quite put their finger on. He seems to light up the rooms he walks in to. Whether it is with his expressive persona, or down-to-earth attitude, it seems that he leaves his ego, and his millions, at the door. Yes, he’s made millions, and lost many of them along the way, but that will never be his defining quality. Irreverence might be too strong a word, because it suggests that he thinks ill of other people’s opinions. It may be nearly impossible to deconstruct his odd behaviour and come up with a clear opinion on him, but what is obvious is that Dennis Rodman is a complicated man who seems to have as much difficulty understanding himself as we do him.