NBA legend Dennis Rodman is known for a lot of things: Being a member of the Bad Boy Pistons, winning three championships in a row with the Chicago Bulls, and becoming the best rebounder of his era. He's a top 10 power forward all-time and top 10 at making headlines off the court. But there is so much more to Rodman. Let’s take a look at one of the wildest careers in NBA history.
Like most NBA legends, Rodman came from humble beginnings. He was born in Trenton, New Jersey but grew up in the projects of Dallas, Texas. His mom, Shirley, worked several jobs to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of Rodman and his two sisters. Rodman’s father left the family when he was very young.
Rodman was 5-foot-6 during his freshman year at South Oak Cliff High School. He was cut from the football team and was either cut or benched in basketball all four years. These early failures devastated Rodman.
At 18, Rodman found work as a janitor at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport immediately after graduating high school. At this stage of his life, it seemed like he was going nowhere. Instead of trying to advance himself, he spent most of his time drifting along the winds of life. This would change soon.
Rodman hit a growth spurt in his late teens. The Dallas native went from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-7. The insane growth spurt inspired Rodman to give basketball another try, even if the failures of the past still haunted him.
Rodman gave basketball a second chance at North Central Texas College. On the court, his play was spectacular. Off it, he was struggling with his academics, leaving the university because of bad grades.
After transferring to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Rodman became friends with Byrne Rich at a local basketball camp. The two became inseparable. The Rich family took Rodman into their home and taught him the values of hard work and discipline on the farm. He lived with the Rich family for three years.
Rodman blew up at the small NAIA college, becoming an NAIA All-American three times and averaging 25.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game. At a small school in the middle of Oklahoma, Rodman didn’t get much attention from NBA scouts. All he needed was one person to see his potential.
The Detroit Pistons liked what they saw in the young and hungry Rodman. He fit the persona of what they were trying to build in the Motor City, a tough and defensive-minded contender that wanted to win games by breaking their opponent instead of outscoring them. They saw potential in the unknown prospect. Head coach Chuck Daly drafted Rodman in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. He would later become the steal of the draft.
Rodman joined a tough team in the Detroit Pistons. They were nicknamed the Bad Boy Pistons for their defensive playing style and habit of dirty fouls and getting into fights during games. They were the definition of old-school basketball. In today’s NBA, they’d be thrown out of the league. In the late '80s and early '90s, they fit right in with the era and would even come to define it.
Rodman joined the perfect team. He learned from players like Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, and John Salley while studying the game of basketball endlessly. He earned a reputation as a hard worker and found a role in the Bad Boy Pistons system.
The Bad Boy Pistons won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. They beat the Los Angeles Lakers in ‘89 and the Portland Trail Blazers in ‘90. Rodman was the young gun of these teams and became the heart and soul of the defense.
The Bad Boy Pistons are the only team to beat Bird, Magic, and Jordan in their prime. They also created The Jordan Rules, a list of tactics to shut down Michael Jordan.
Rodman won Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991. During his two-year reign as the best defensive player in the entire NBA, he averaged nine points, 11.1 rebounds, one assist, and a little under a steal and block per game.
Rodman hit a rough patch in his life in 1993. Pistons head coach Chuck Daly, who became a father figure to Dennis, left the team. Rodman was going through a tough divorce with his first wife, Annie Bakes. It seemed the height of the Bad Boy Pistons era was all but over.
Rodman was in a bad place mentally. One night, after a game, Rodman drove to the Palace of Auburn Hills and parked the car. He brought a gun with him. Thankfully, he fell asleep. The police found Rodman asleep in his car and performed a welfare check on the Pistons star forward. Rodman swore to turn his life around after this low point.
Rodman demanded a trade in 1993. He got one when the San Antonio Spurs came calling for the rebounding machine. Rodman was excited about a fresh start, and the Spurs finally had a sidekick to pair with star center David Robinson in the front court. Rodman would spend two seasons with the team.
After his suıcide attempt in ‘93, Rodman knew what he needed to do. The star forward wanted to be happy, and he wanted to be himself. He was done trying to be something he was not and living up to an image.
Rodman changed his entire image. He dyed his hair blond, a statement of his new mindset on life. Throughout his career, Rodman would also get several tattoos and piercings. He became an edgy star whose unique appearance and off-court antics were eclipsed only by his will to win.
The new image didn’t change Rodman’s game on the court. He still got boards better than any player in the league. However, he didn’t mesh well with the Spurs. He didn’t fit in with the Spurs locker room and grew frustrated with the team’s playoff losses. In his last season with the team, Rodman clashed with the head coach and front office. He also missed several games because of in-house suspensions and a leave of absence he took. To top it off, a shoulder injury he suffered in a motorcycle accident caused him to miss time. Still, Rodman won the rebounding title at the end of the year.
Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 1995. The change of scenery raised a few eyebrows across the league. Rodman and the Bad Boy Pistons were one of Jordan’s biggest rivals. People were worried about how Rodman would fit in with Jordan and Scottie Pippen. These very real worries were cast aside when Rodman got on the court. He turned out to be a perfect fit for the Bulls, who needed a power forward.
Rodman brought his trademark rebounding and defense to the Bulls. He fit nicely into the Bulls’ triangle offense as a post-up threat and savvy passer.
The Chicago Bulls became a dynasty in the '90s. The Bulls Big Three of Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman was unstoppable. In their first season together, the Bulls went 72-10 and won the 1996 NBA Finals. They are widely regarded as the best basketball team ever. While Jordan took home Finals MVP in ‘96, there is an argument to be made that Rodman was deserving of the award.
The Bulls followed up their record-breaking ‘96 season by beating the Utah Jazz in back-to-back NBA Finals. It was official. The Bulls pulled off a three-peat.
Rodman’s love for professional wrestling inspired him to test his luck in the sport. He teamed up with Hulk Hogan as a member of NWO. After the 1998 NBA Finals, he faced Karl Malone at Bash at the Beach. While his WWE career was short, it was exciting.
Rodman was a prolific rebounder. He won seven consecutive rebounding titles from 1991-98. He could take over a game with his rebounding ability, a rarity in the NBA. Rodman was used to grabbing 20 or more boards in a game. He won his team games by focusing on getting as many rebounds as possible and playing All-Star-caliber defense.
The Bulls broke up The Big Three after winning three championships in a row. Jordan retired. Pippen and three-point ace Steve Kerr left in free agency. And finally, head coach Phil Jackson stepped down from coaching.
The Bulls released Rodman. After the fact, he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he joined Kobe and Shaq. Rodman only lasted 23 games with the team.
The following season, Rodman signed with the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 14.3 rebounds in just 12 games. It would be his last season in the NBA. After a few stints in other basketball leagues, Rodman called it quits.
Throughout his career, he won five championships. He won two with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls. Rodman made his mark on his era and became a vital piece to five championship runs.
There is no denying that Rodman is quite the character. Besides his unique appearance, Rodman has made headlines for some crazy reasons.
Known to be the life of the party, Rodman knew how to celebrate his many accomplishments. His partying antics made him a fan favorite during his career. The internet is filled with stories about his wild lifestyle, from partying before the NBA Finals to partying with Carmen Electra in Vegas.
On the field, Rodman is also known to get rowdy. He headbutted a ref, kicked a cameraman, received countless technical fouls, and was always a threat to get into a fight or altercation every game. Rodman had his fair share of ejections from games.
Rappers A$AP Ferg and Tyga wrote a song named after the NBA legend. So did Mansionz. He is even featured on the Mansionz track. He has starred in movies Double Team and Simon Sez and played himself on The Simpsons.
Regarding reality TV, Rodman had his own show with MTV, The Rodman World Tour, and he was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice. Rodman has also published five books.
Rodman has struggled with drinking in his life. He entered rehab in 2008 and '14.
Rodman has been featured on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and Sober House for his heavy drinking and party lifestyle.
He has gotten in trouble with the law for public drunkenness, misdemeanor battery, driving under the influence, noise complaints due to his wild parties, and missing child support payments, among other legal trouble.
Since retiring, Rodman has gotten into politics. He is friends with Donald Trump, who he became close with through Celebrity Apprentice . During the 2016 presidential election, Rodman endorsed Trump for office. In 2020, Rodman supported Kanye West for president.
His friendship with the Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un has made headlines. Rodman frequently visits North Korea. On some of his trips, he participates in an exhibition game of basketball with Kim Jong-un in attendance.
Over the years, Rodman has asked the leader of North Korea to release American prisoners. Rodman’s goal in this odd friendship is to advocate for peace and form a better relationship between the United States and North Korea. Rodman gave an interview on his experiences with North Korea after the 2018 North Korea-United States Summit. Rodman is in the unique situation of being friends with former U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
In 2022, Rodman advocated for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. He even considered traveling to Russia and asking for her release.
Rodman has been married three times. His first wife was model Annie Bakes, whom he was with during his time with the Pistons. He married Baywatch star Carmen Electa in Las Vegas in 1998. Their marriage was short-lived. They divorced the following year.
His third marriage was to Michelle Moyer, with whom he has two kids. Rodman briefly dated Madonna in 1994.
In 1996, he showed up to a Bulls game in a wedding dress. Rodman stated that he married himself as a promotional tool for his upcoming book, Bad As I Wanna be.
Rodman has three kids: Alexis, Trinity, and DJ Rodman. Alexis is his daughter with Annie Bakes. Trinity and DJ were with Moyer. Trinity is a professional soccer player with the Washington Spirit and the U.S. women’s national soccer team. DJ Rodman plays Division I basketball with Washington State.
The Last Dance was a 2020 ESPN documentary series about Michael Jordan’s basketball career. The GOAT’s 10-episode series featured stories from his high school career, his time at the University of North Carolina, and the journey toward winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Rodman is featured extensively in the documentary.
Episode 3 is about Rodman’s backstory and how he ended up with the Bulls. There’s a great scene where the Bulls players and coaches describe a short vacation to Las Vegas that Rodman went on halfway through the 1998 season with Carmen Electra. Rodman stayed in Vegas for longer than promised. Jordan had to drag Rodman out of Vegas for practice with the Bulls.
Rodman's rollercoaster career ended when he was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Known for his shutdown defense, hustle plays, and rebounding, Rodman etched a place for himself in NBA lore. He could control games with his rebounding and is remembered as one of the greatest rebounders in the history of the NBA.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He's a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn't watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.
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