Born Dennis Keith Rodman on May 13, 1961, in Trenton, NJ; son of Philander and Shirley Rodman; married Annie Bakes (model), 1993 (divorced); married Carmen Electra (actress), 1998 (divorced 1999); children: (with Bakes) Alexis
Education: Attended Cooke County Junior College, 1982-83, and Southeastern Oklahoma State University, 1983-86.
Detroit Pistons, professional basketball player, 1986-93; San Antonio Spurs, professional basketball player, 1993-95; writer, 1994-97; Chicago Bulls, professional basketball player, 1995-98; actor, 1996-; Los Angeles Lakers, professional basketball player, 1999; Dallas Mavericks, professional basketball player, 2000.
Dennis Rodman is one of the greatest rebounders ever to play professional basketball. His rebounding exploits have drawn comparisons with such legends as Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Bill Russell, all of whom were taller and heavier. Sports Illustrated once called Rodman “a sort of basketball genius.” A dedicated analyst of the game and a tenacious defender, Rodman led the National Basketball Association (NBA) in rebounding for four consecutive years and helped lead his teams to five NBA championships. As his career went on, however, Rodman drew ever more attention for his off-court antics. With his rainbow-colored hair and multiple tattoos, his penchant for conducting interviews in gay bars, and tumultuous romances with the singer Madonna and the actress Carmen Electra, Rodman landed headlines far outside the sports pages.
Rodman revels in the outsider image. The hair, the tattoos, the numerous body piercings, and the episodes of cross-dressing are all the product of a man who is as much entertainer as athlete. “I tried something bold,” Rodman explained in Playboy. “I created something that everyone has been afraid of … the Dennis Rodman I was born to be.” However flamboyant his behavior might be, Rodman offers no apologies. He feels that he is fulfilling his mission in the NBA as well–or better–than anyone. “I don’t like people to get inside Dennis Rodman,” he admitted in the Atlanta Journal. “But once I get on the court, I’m just taking the 22,000 fans that are in the stands and putting them inside me. I like to see people excited and happy, and when they leave the arena they say, ‘God, that was a great game.'”
Renounced by Mother
Dennis Keith Rodman was born on May 13, 1961, in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Philander and Shirley Rodman. When he was just three years old, his father–an Air Force enlistee–deserted the family, leaving Dennis and his two younger sisters without a father figure. Despite his success in the NBA, Rodman has not seen his father in 25 years. No one is more surprised by Rodman’s success than Rodman himself. “I’m something I shouldn’t have been,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I should be an average Joe Blow, nine to five.” Rodman says this because as a child he was frail and shy, often taking the brunt of beatings by his bigger, more aggressive schoolmates.
Rodman was only five-foot-eleven during high school. He did not even make the varsity basketball team at the Dallas, Texas high school he attended. After graduating from high school he drifted through a series of jobs, including serving as a janitor at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. According to Mark Seal in Playboy, the part-time airport job led Rodman into trouble: “On a dare, he stuck his broom handle through a gift shop grate and stole 15 watches. He was arrested, jailed for a night, and released after he told the cops where the watches were.” No charges were ever filed in the incident, but it added to the growing strain between Rodman and his mother.
Shortly after the incident with the watches, Rodman’s mother issued him an ultimatum: he was to go to college, enlist in the armed services, or get another job. Rodman ignored her. Exasperated, she packed his bags and kicked him out. Their relationship has been cordial but distant ever since. “I’ll just say this,” Rodman told the Post-Dispatch. “It left a hole in my life I can’t fill up.”
Rescued by Basketball
Rescue came in the form of a phenomenal growth spurt. Rodman grew almost a foot in a single year, topping out at six-foot-eight. After a year at Cooke County Junior College in Dallas, he won a basketball scholarship to Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He arrived there, shy and uncertain about his skills, in 1983.
At a basketball camp that Rodman helped to coach, he met a young boy named Bryne Rich. Bryne was suffering deeply from the consequences of an accident that had occurred while he was hunting–his gun had discharged while he was reloading, killing his best friend. Rodman helped Bryne talk through his pain, and in return Bryne introduced Rodman to the Rich family, who practically adopted the soft-spoken college player. Rodman moved in with the Rich family, who offered emotional support and encouragement as his basketball career caught fire.
As a college junior and senior Rodman led the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in rebounding, with 16.1 per game in 1985 and 17.8 in 1986. He was named an All-American as a senior and was chosen in the second round of the 1986 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. Rodman joined the Pistons for the 1986-87 season as a forward, finding a congenial atmosphere with coach Chuck Daly and a no-holds-barred group of fellow players who would come to be known as the “Bad Boys.” A brief marriage during the period to model Annie Bakes ended in divorce after only 82 days, but it produced Rodman’s only child to date, a daughter named Alexis. Bakes’s only lasting influence on Rodman’s life was her penchant for getting tattoos–Rodman has since covered much of his body with them.
Professionally, Rodman became a force to be reckoned with. The Pistons won back-to-back national championships in 1989 and 1990, taking their “Bad Boy” image to a worldwide audience. Rodman established himself as a solid rebounder and important defensive cog in the Pistons lineup, earning NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors in both 1990 and 1991. He had a good relationship with his teammates and coach Daly, and by all reports he was infuriated when some of his friends got traded and Daly left the team. “Dennis kind of grew up with us,” Daly explained in USA Today. “The Pistons were Dennis’s first professional family, and he really liked what the team stood for…. It was a family to him, and when it disintegrated around him, it was tough for him to deal with.”
It was during this time that Rodman developed his philosophy on the NBA–that professional basketball exploits its players, forcing them to play more for money than for a sense of team, and expecting them to adhere to a squeaky-clean image at odds with the demands of the game. Asked why he had become so uncommunicative with his coaches and fellow players in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rodman had a simple answer: “This business is rotten.”
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