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Dennis Rodman’s Hall of Fame speech recounts personal tragedies more than basketball glories


Dennis Rodman 2011 Hall Of Fame Speech (VIDEO) by 3030fm

My younger brother had a difficult childhood. He had interests that didn’t jibe with kids his age when he was in elementary school. He didn’t make friends easily. We were poor and he had ill-fitting clothes that were hand-me-downs and were out of style even when I wore them years before. He insisted on straightening the tight curls in his hair, then attempting to style it in a spike like his classmates. Needless to say, he was picked on mercilessly.

But instead of conforming to try and fit in, he started dressing more strangely. He would wear Halloween costumes under his clothes, then take the layer of clothes off once he got to school and walk around dressed as a Power Ranger. Or he’d fashion metallic wristbands and wear those, pissing off my mom in the process because he used up all of the tin foil. Kids made fun of him even more, but somehow, it started to hurt him less in those ridiculous outfits. The costumes were an obvious coping mechanism. Behind the costumes, he could be someone else. He could stop worrying about not having cool jeans. Sometimes, he could muster up the courage to hurl a return insult at someone when he was in costume. Once in a while, he could even manage to physically fight back if a bully was being particularly brutal.

Dennis Rodman was always my favorite athlete for what he accomplished on the court, but I admired and identified with him even more for who he was off of it. Unlike the media covering Rodman during and after his career, I, and I suspect others who watched Rodman closely in Detroit and learned about his background, saw his off-court behavior for what it was: a coping mechanism similar to the one my brother used.

Much of the coverage of Rodman leading up to tonight’s Hall of Fame induction had an, ‘Ooooh … I bet Rodman will do something crazy,’ tone. Some of it was downright ugly and stupid, like this hack job of a column by Bill Plaschke of the LA Times. Fellow inductee Teresa Edwards joked in an interview before the show that she was worried Rodman would wear the same dress as her. No matter how much Steve Kerr tried to talk about Rodman as a teammate on NBA TV before the ceremony started, he kept getting asked about Rodman’s non-basketball antics. The off-court ways for Rodman to deflect attention worked, largely because the media easily falls for ruses (hey, sorry media, it’s true … overall, we’re a pretty dim bunch). Rodman is a man who has endured a deep amount of personal suffering and tragedy in his life, growing up in extreme poverty with no father in the picture. He’s struggled with addiction a portion of his adult life. He’s abused his body by, as he put it in his speech, ‘burning both ends’ partying during his playing days. He frequently alluded to the fact that he didn’t expect to live very long (hell, he even has a book called, I Should Be Dead By Now).

But in Detroit, we knew differently. We’ve seen how emotional Rodman, sobbing uncontrollably when he won his first Defensive Player of the Year award and, more recently, when his jersey was retired by the Pistons, is. We’ve seen how those emotions can push him to do destructive things — in 1993, he sat in his truck in the Palace parking lot, contemplating suicide after the Pistons and Rodman’s mentor, Chuck Daly, parted ways, and Rodman’s ex-wife had moved his daughter away from him. We watched him grow into one of the most unselfish teammates in the history of the game. We saw how integral he was to the Pistons’ championships. Some of us even begrudgingly pulled for the hated Bulls when Rodman was traded to them and won three more titles.

And hopefully, after Rodman’s Hall of Fame speech Friday, things are more clear now to the folks who get distracted by the tattoos, Madonnas and wedding dresses. That speech, that was what Rodman was about. He was humbled. He thanked David Stern for "even letting me in the building." He gave deference to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, calling them the best 1-2 punch to ever play the game. But honestly, basketball figured very little into Rodman’s speech.

He thanked several father figures in his life, including Daly and Phil Jackson. And he didn’t just thank them. He explained to everyone why he needed father figures in the first place. His own father abandoned him when he was five and has, according to Rodman, fathered more than 40 children in the Philippines.

He apologized to his children and his wife, admitting that he has not been a good husband or father to them. He thanked his wife for "being a mother and father" to their children.

He apologized to his mother, who he rebelled against and never had a good relationship with, for being a bad son. He admitted to never understanding how much she sacrificed for him, working three jobs when he was growing up.

But he didn’t apologize in an, "I’m going to make it up to you guys," kind of way. That was what was so real about it — Rodman’s life, driven by pain, driven by the difficult time he’s had managing his emotions and vices, is not controllable. He’s cognizant that he’s hurt people and at the same time terrified that he can’t change.

The endearing quality of Rodman has always been his angst. He’s always been a balance between a flamboyant, larger-than-life character designed specifically to distract from the very real tragedies he’s never been able to cope with.

I remember well during his playing days the excuse-making that would go on. The ‘Dennis being Dennis’ meme was a common cliché used when teammates or coaches were asked about off-court craziness. Rodman himself worked very hard to sell the hair, the makeup, the piercings as simply his attempt to prove his individualism. As a teenager, that resonated, because what teenager doesn’t try to do the exact same things to cultivate their public image?

But as we age, teenagers generally grow out of those frivolities. Rodman hasn’t, and he hasn’t because it wasn’t a superficial endeavor for him. It was his way of coping with pain, with tragedy that still haunts him, that would still haunt any of us. He’s a man still struggling to understand how he beat the odds, how he didn’t end up in jail or dead.

That introspection, that willingness to so openly share his innermost regrets with the world, is what makes Rodman one of the most fascinating athletes of all-time. And combined with the fact that his unique personality translated to the court, creating a one of-a-kind, distinctive athlete as well makes him as worthy of being in the Hall of Fame as anyone.

26 Comments

  • Aug 12, 201111:51 pm
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    Well written Patrick. Only Rodman could of made a Pistons fan temporarily root for the Bulls

    • Aug 13, 201112:16 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Yep. It’s not ideal to have to share him, but that experience on the Bulls was undeniably great for his career.

  • Aug 13, 201112:06 am
    by bball4224

    Reply

    When he was thanking everyone at the beginning he even said “my Bulls teammates” and then said that was everyone, but he never mentioned a Piston. Other than the Pistons being on the back of his jacket I wasn’t feeling much love for Detroit. But you know, w/e.
     

    • Aug 13, 201112:15 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      You’re right, he talked very little about Detroit. I think Isiah and Dumars were the only guys he mentioned.

      He’s said before that the two people in Detroit he was closest to were Chuck Daly and former PR guy Matt Dobek. Both of those guys passed away. It’s not that Rodman doesn’t love his Detroit teammates, I think he clearly does, but I also think Daly and Dobek were his guys and without them, I think he’s been a bit more disconnected with Detroit.

      Plus, he developed a great relationship with not only Phil Jackson, but also Scottie Pippen, which sounds strange considering how much Pippen hated him at one time. He’s also really close with Kerr and Buechler from those Bulls teams (as Jackson assigned them to always go party with Rodman and make sure he didn’t get too out of control before games). I think both experiences were important to him, but Detroit is more where he grew up and Chicago is where his more recent NBA friends are.

      It’s a bit sad to have to share him with Chicago, but I don’t think he’d be in the Hall of Fame right now if he never found his way to the Bulls. He was on the verge of being run out of the league when he was in San Antonio and Jackson/Jordan/Pippen helped save his career from going off the tracks I think.

      • Aug 14, 20111:35 am
        by bball4224

        Reply

        Ha and he only mentioned Joey D and Zeke to say that Jordan and Pippen were better. I was just hopin for a lil more recognition.

  • Aug 13, 201112:52 am
    by Merwin

    Reply

    Great post.  It’s easy to misunderstand Dennis, harder to look deeper.  Thanks for taking the time to get it right.

  • Aug 13, 20112:51 am
    by khandor

    Reply

    Patrick Hayes,
    This is one fine piece of prose, as a salute to the Life and Times of Dennis Rodman. I commend you, sir. FACT: When he first broke into the league, ‘The Worm’ was one of the very few players in the NBA who I would actually have paid my own hard-earned money to see play the game properly, on a regular basis, in his own highly distinctive way. IMO, Chuck Daly would have been so very proud of Dennis this evening.

  • Aug 13, 20113:33 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Incredible post.

  • Aug 13, 20116:41 am
    by JoshB

    Reply

    Very insightful post. I woke up with a foot cramp, and figured I’d check to see if there was anything new on the site, and found myself reading the entire thing. I really commend you on this one

  • Aug 13, 201111:28 am
    by hazen

    Reply

    i was working 4 jobs during the summer of 1989 and going to school too. i worked at a gas dock on the detroit river. dennis rodman pulled up on his 36 footer. what a guy and back then didnt have a tatoo and thought he was going to be traded that year. he was very quiet and reserved then and he mentioned that he was meeting budda and salley later. he was alone on his boat, which was weird, he also mentioned how daddy rich was his “dad” then. what a player. compare his stats with ben’s. you will be amazed how close they are. 

    • Aug 13, 20118:21 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Wow, what a cool moment.

      I’ve heard there are a lot of of Rodman-Salley popping up in random places all over Detroit when they played here.

  • Aug 13, 201111:28 am
    by MrHappyMushroom

    Reply

    Agreed.  A wonderful and thoughtful read.
     
    Now on to something that I’ve always found obvious, but never noticed anyone else mention:  I am right that Pippen and Rodman look an incredible lot alike, aren’t I?

    • Aug 13, 20118:23 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Haha … there is a bit of a resemblance. Of course, it could just be that both are really really funny looking.

  • Aug 13, 20112:21 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    Fantastic piece Patrick. You should send it to Plaschke and say, “this is how to write.” I was pleased to see that most of the comments on Plaschke’s article berated him. As for The Worm, I’m glad that the HOF voters looked beyond the obvious (scoring, shooting, off-court antics) and inducted one of the most underrated players who did all the unglamorous things necessary to win. I honestly think that the Jazz would have won one of their Finals appearances if Karl Malone wasn’t guarded by Rodman. So proud of Rodman. Thanks for this post.

  • Aug 13, 20114:37 pm
    by BandWagonerPaysTheDues

    Reply

    While I agree that this is a well written article and that a close parallel was drawn, I do not agree with the conclusion.  What’s missing in all of this is that Rodman is a bonafide rock star.  People in the basketball world were shocked because they were (are?) squares.  It’s a pretty style conformist group who, as you can tell by the annual dunk contest reruns, will wear whatever horrible Cosby sweater or Magnum mustache that society deems acceptable at the time.  It felt to many of us that Rodman was as cool hanging with Jordan as he was with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and that was a good thing.  Dude was hanging out with Madonna and doing nude shots with her on top of it.  That’s completely awesome in my book, not something to be frowned upon.  He died his hair all kinds of colors.  So did all my friends and all of our favorite bands.  So his appearance didn’t fit into the realms of the NBA’s normal fashion guidelines, it doesn’t mean that this only comes from his sense of pain and that he’s wearing some mask.  Some people, some very special people, feel that they are different and unique from a young age and have the bravery to embrace it.  Some of those people become our real life heroes after applying those inclinations to be themselves, even when society tells them they are wrong.  In fact, most people who push society forward and break boundaries which inhibited us had the inclination to wear a cape here and there.  It’s because capes are badass.

    The fact that Rodman has the capacity to reveal his true emotions and true self in front of an audience of his peers and the world media only goes to show his true inner strength.  Treating his brave self honesty as a frivolity is way off base.

    • Aug 13, 20114:39 pm
      by BandWagonerPaysTheDues

      Reply

      Dyed, not died.  That actually would have been bad.

    • Aug 13, 20118:36 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Oh, I wasn’t trying to discount Rodman’s rock stardom at all. His off-court star power was a huge, huge reason he’s in the Hall of Fame. I mean, dating Madonna, wrestling as Hulk Hogan’s tag team partner, hanging out with Eddie Vedder … his cultural impact on basketball was huge. I’ve actually written about that quite a bit over the years, most recently here.

      My only point with this column was that Rodman’s persona gets misinterpreted a lot. It wasn’t something he created to make himself into a bigger star. It was organic, legitimately sprouting out of pain, angst, unhappiness, etc.

      The first time he dyed his hair wasn’t even to get attention. He liked the movie Demolition Man and got the blonde Mohawk that Wesley Snipes had in the movie during his first season in San Antonio.

      Rodman’s pre-basketball life is obviously tragic. But he sank into a really deep professional unhappiness as well. His final season in Detroit, he didn’t have Chuck Daly. His first marriage failed and his ex wife and daughter moved away. He was traded to San Antonio and quickly grew to detest that organization. The Spurs are conservative, they are the only game in town in their market and they wanted Rodman to conform, to do things that frankly he wasn’t asked to do in Detroit. And on top of that, he thought his experience winning championships made him better equipped to tell the Spurs what they should be doing rather than the other way around. So the hair colors, the tattoos, the piercings, those things all came about as a result of him thumbing his nose at an organization he hated.

      The Spurs damaged his reputation as a basketball player. The Bulls rebuilt it, proved that Rodman was a team guy, proved that he still knew how to win. And on top of that, arriving in a big market in Chicago playing next to the biggest star in sports, the hair, the individualism, the style … those things were embraced even more by non-basketball media that became more likely to pay attention to him in Chicago than they did in San Antonio or even Detroit.

      Like I said in the post, Rodman is complex. But I do think his individuality and his style are, to some extent, shaped by how he coped with tragedies or unhappiness or whatever in his life. I was just trying to point out that underneath all that, he’s always been the same vulnerable dude. There’s a perception among a lot of the square sports media that you mentioned that Rodman somehow “changed” after Detroit. He didn’t. He became more colorful, certainly, and he became a bigger star aided by playing for arguably the greatest team in NBA history. But the emotion, the loss, the seemingly endless inner search he’s had for why he is where he is … those are all things you could see in him from the moment he stepped into the NBA.

       

      • Aug 14, 20112:46 am
        by BandWagonerPaysTheDues

        Reply

        Overall, some great and well written insights.  Thank you for that.  Still one slight bone to pick, though.

        “My only point with this column was that Rodman’s persona gets misinterpreted a lot. It wasn’t something he created to make himself into a bigger star. It was organic, legitimately sprouting out of pain, angst, unhappiness, etc.”

        I guess I’d add some words to the list of reasons his wild persona sprouted, like that he was financially secure for the first time in his families American existence and he felt a sense of freedom that most people will never know.  Once you realize that you can paint your head pink and people will still open doors for you and pay for your entire dinner party, you have tapped into some pretty liberating energy. I can see how the fact that he started embracing this wild and crazy side in his mid 20′s and not when he was thirteen supports the idea that it was more of an emotional outlet kind of thing.  What I’m saying is, you may be totally correct, but I hope that you’re not and it’s just that he started hanging out with some really artsy cats and felt liberated enough and secure enough with his talents and finances to just let it all hang out. Literally.  

        Hey, it’s possible that Detroit is what changed him.  After all, it’s the home of Parliament/Funkadelic.  And that is a good thing.  Always.

        • Aug 16, 20111:49 am
          by dave

          Reply

          well, bootsy and catfish collins are from detroit, but most of pfunk is from and began in plainfield.nj

  • Aug 13, 20115:34 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Patrick,

    Great article.  Way back, over the fence, upper deck, long gone!  Bravo

  • Aug 13, 20117:29 pm
    by nana

    Reply

    your speech brought me to tears, loved every minute that I watched you play, wish there were more days like those, Dennis Rodman you have earned your place in hall of fame, wish you the best always, your children are beautiful and your wife too. God bless You.

  • Aug 13, 20118:54 pm
    by Ryan

    Reply

    Making Oakland University look even better Hayes, Solid job.

  • Aug 13, 20119:30 pm
    by William

    Reply

    I have trawled the web and read a lot of articles on thus topi and this is undoubtably the best article written. Excellent stuff!

  • Aug 13, 201110:28 pm
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htRsHwtsWic

    I love this clip so much. The look on Brickowski’s face is priceless. If Rodman ever appears on ‘This is your life’ then Brickowski definitely must make an appearance.

  • Aug 15, 20112:42 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    Great piece, PH.

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