‘The Last Dance’…But It Is All Dennis Rodman

15.11.2020
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A few months back - around April of this year - Netflix and ESPN decided to bless its audience with a 10-episodes long documentary-series about Michael Jordan and his last championship run, fittingly titled 'The Last Dance'. The series had a lot to offer, as it used original and unreleased footage from the 1997/1998 NBA season and delved into almost every facet of Michael Jordan's life and career - also, all the things he apparently "took personal". Without a doubt, the show was a huge success and entertained millions, but what if it was centered around another iconic Bulls' player of that era?

Episode 3 of 'The Last Dance' introduced spectators to the chaotic persona of Dennis Rodman. In the documentary he is depicted as troublesome, but his unapologetic character undoubtedly resonated with audiences. As a result, many - including myself - demanded more content focusing on the uncompromising Rockstar wearing basketball sneakers. 

The way the 'Worm' approached the game of basketball and life itself are unique and polarizing. It is hard to imagine a player like Rodman suiting up in the current NBA, which makes it even more desirable to look back on the wild career of the most controversial player in league history through a camera lens. Need any more evidence? Well, ...


Style of Play

Dennis Rodman was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and was implemented into a system that valued physicality and defensive effort. The influence of coach Chuck Daly and being part of the 'Bad Boy Pistons' of the late 80s and early 90s shaped the way he played the game for years to come.

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Although gifted with athleticism, Rodman dismissed highlight plays on offense and focused much rather on defense. Valuing rebounding numbers over scoring and hustling relentlessly were staples of his game and proved to be invaluable during multiple title runs with the Bulls and the Pistons. He took pride in grabbing 15+ rebounds per game, developed specific instincts to outsmart opposing big men, that might have been bigger and stronger, underneath the basket and was comfortable in his role. He was able to transform seemingly boring aspects of basketball into exciting action and, therefore, attracted fans and demanded attention everywhere he went.

He might not be considered the most disciplined individual outside the sidelines, but when it mattered, he showed up, his mind solely on the game, outhustling everyone in his way. "Off the court, his tired freak show continues, but on the court, he brings tremendous energy and heart", as one commentator claimed during Game 4 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

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His Past

Originating from Dallas, Texas, Dennis Rodman had to deal with rough circumstances growing up a kid from the projects. Not having his father present throughout his formative years and being brought up by his two sisters and his mother, he was not even considered the basketball prodigy of the family, as his sisters were thought to be the gifted athletes of the household. Rodman was a late bloomer, only playing JV basketball for half a season during his sophomore year of high school.

His life before becoming an NBA superstar was filled with an abundance of suffering and struggle. He was kicked out of his home by his mother, spent time in the streets, had to work a variety of jobs that provided miniscule salaries, was caught stealing, started playing Juco basketball and abandoned it shortly after. But things took a turn when NAIA's Southeastern Oklahoma University showed immense interest and convinced the young Dennis Rodman to take the plunge.

Being an African American male in these new settings was a burden and made college life difficult for the athlete. Supportive personal surroundings - namely the Rich family - however, helped Rodman to stay on track and allowed him to excel on the basketball court, which ultimately lead to him appearing on the NBA's radar.


Attitude, Lifestyle, Internal Struggle, Controversy

Not many seem to have gotten a grasp of Rodman's philosophy. He was - and most likely still is - an all-over-the-place personality. His extravagant appearance demanded attention, even though he was not actively seeking it.

"I didn't play the game for the money. I didn't play the game [...] to be famous", as he mentioned in his Hall of Fame induction speech. He loved to be flamboyant and colorful, but he could care less about what other people thought about his behavior and superficialities.

He appreciated the blessings he received from playing basketball at a high level, but it was not what kept him going. Sometimes he would have even preferred working a regular lower waged job, as he despised the exhausting aspects of his career off the court. At one point, during his tenure with the Pistons, it drove him insane and he found himself at the threshold of almost ending it all.

Therefore, disappearing and partying were his way of escaping and coping with the situation. It was something he needed in order to get his head straight and his focus back. Many might have called his actions drastic and controversial, but what if he was simply...misunderstood?


Cultural Impact

It cannot be denied that Dennis Rodman has always been true to himself no matter the consequences. His uncompromising behavior and the expressionist way he carried himself allowed for an unprecedented influence on popular culture.

He did not participate in the mainstream hip hop culture of his era. He did not conform to fashion trends or mainstream ideals; Dennis Rodman unapologetically did what he thought was right. He loved listening to bands like Pearl Jam and appreciated the authenticity of their lyrics. Off the court, he preferred wearing boots instead of sneakers, which further emphasized his rebellious and unique Rockstar aesthetic. He dressed in clothes only few other players would wear - not even shying away from occasionally sporting women's clothes - and used his hair as a billboard, basically.

Nevertheless, his approach, that was (sometimes even more than) shocking during his playing career, finds deserved appreciation, tribute and emulation in today's pop culture where he is, for example, not just mentioned but idolized by different rappers in their lines and even appears in their music videos.


NBA Journey

From an audience's perspective, it would be intriguing to get a behind-the-scenes look at other career destinations of the 'Worm', besides Detroit and Chicago.

For example, his failed stint in San Antonio that has been extensively covered in his book "Bad As I Wanna Be", and that he describes in a negative, if not frustrated, way throughout the chapters. He mostly felt undervalued and underappreciated by the Spurs organization, which finally lead to his departure to the Bulls.

Also, his forgotten employments in Los Angeles and Dallas with the Lakers and Mavericks would be worth further exploring.


Success

Apart from his incomparable and flamboyant persona on and off the court, his accomplishment as an athlete were essential in him asserting himself among the league's greatest. Dennis "The Menace" was able to accumulate five NBA championships and two Defensive Player Of The Year awards, while he also lead the league in rebounding from 1992 to 1998. Additionally, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.


There may not be a universal consensus on what to think about Dennis Rodman, since arguably not a single NBA player in the history of this league has polarized audiences like he did. No matter your opinion on the man, even getting to this point of this article, opinion essay, whatever you want to call it, shows that you are somewhat fascinated by him. In your defense, how can you not be captivated by the enigma that is Dennis Rodman? Which once again proves the point: We need another 'Last Dance'...but dedicated to "The Menace" himself!


author: Daniel Hahofer

-title image taken from Unsplash.com; provided by Neal Kharawala

-other images from Getty Images