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Fran Blinebury

Dennis Rodman was honored Friday by the Pistons, who retired his No. 10 jersey.
J. Dennis/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Voters look past negative, reward Rodman's unique talent

Posted Apr 5 2011 6:32AM

HOUSTON -- It was suggested that having his jersey retired by the Pistons on Friday night and then being welcomed into the Hall of Fame on Monday morning might have made for the best long weekend of his life.

"Oooh," said Dennis Rodman, from behind the large Gucci sunglasses, "I've had a lot of great weekends."

Then came the grin that seemed to run across his face the way Rodman used to run all over the basketball court, going in about a dozen different directions at once.

It was the unpredictable, untameable, mischievous side of his personality that always had so many wondering if this day would come, Rodman included.

"I thought with the way I am I wouldn't get in," he said. "People always said, 'Dennis you do too many things off the court that don't represent us or the Hall.' I didn't take offense. I said, 'Thanks, whatever.' I had a great time. I had a great career. So I just blew it off.

"Now this represents the fact that they looked past all the negativity. 'He actually changed the game a little bit. He changed the way guys rebound, changed way people played defense, changed the way people look at the game, approach the game.' I wasn't a good scorer. I wasn't the best athlete. I never tried to get everybody looking at me."

At least, not when he wasn't posing for a photo shoot wearing a white wedding gown or decked out in a red feather boa and makeup.

But beneath all of that was a seven-time NBA rebounding champion, seven-time All-Defensive First Team member, two-time All-Star and, oh yes, five-time champion with the Pistons and Bulls.

Those are the down-to-earth reasons why Rodman joined Artis Gilmore, Chris Mullin, Satch Sanders, Tex Winter, Reece "Goose" Tatum, Arvydas Sabonis, Herb Magee, Teresa Edwards and Tara VanDerveer as members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2011.

Yet it was always his out-of-this-world persona that threatened to outshine Rodman's where-did-that-come-from on-court brilliance.

"In a way, that was always a shame," said Mullin, "because there were a lot of times when a lot of people either didn't or couldn't appreciate Dennis the player because of Dennis the personality.

"He was as tough to play against as anyone. He always made his teams better. Not just made them better, but took them to championships and a lot of that got lost at times. But I'll tell you, if he would have showed up here today wearing a suit and tie, I think I'd have fallen off the stage."

Rodman, of course, did not. He wore an open-necked white silk shirt with gold sequin cuffs that was tied into a knot above his navel. That was accompanied by a brown leather vest, blue jeans, black sneakers, a black baseball cap with the brim turned sideways and topped off with a long leopard print scarf and the shades.

"Just something that the girl who makes my clothes made in about three hours," he said. "She's cool as hell and just wait til you see what she makes up for me at the Hall of Fame banquet.

"I'm such a loner. I'm such a freelance individual. I'm not disrespecting the Hall or these guys here. They dress the way they dress and I dress the way I dress. That don't make me less an individual or a character guy that goes out there and does his job."

It never made Rodman less of a teammate for all of the guys he played with or a unique talent to respect even for those from another era.

"I've always evaluated him as a basketball player and his accomplishments in that area," said Gilmore. "Whatever other activities he's involved in that was not something that I focused on or even had an interest in. When I observed Dennis, he was out there giving 100-plus percent and that's what I acknowledge him for."

The 72-year-old Sanders, wearing a navy blue blazer and bow tie, nodded his head and smiled.

"In the old days of the Celtics with Red Auerbach, his off-court persona might have kept Dennis from playing with Boston under Red Auerbach," said Sanders.

"But I can say this categorically -- he could play with any team in the NBA at that particular time and any team now. Because that's the kind of skill he brought out every single game."

Rodman was the guy who could dominate a game without taking a single shot, the thinking man's player who reveled in never letting anyone else know exactly what he was thinking.

He always played like he was running from something and maybe he was considering the hardscrabble upbringing and so-called family life in Dallas that he eventually escaped by finding basketball courts.

"I can say this in very few words," Rodman said. "I could have been dead or in jail.

"When you live in that environment, when you have less than nothing to live for or nothing to gain, when you're living off food stamps, when you walk through the living room and before you get to the front door and there's people doing cocaine, selling cocaine, doing this and doing that, that's your decision right there.

"For some unknown reason, I never did partake in that. All I did was looked at it, got out the door and ran to the gym every day. I started playing basketball and that was my outlet that kept me from going in another direction."

It was the outlet that let him become the flamboyant, larger-than-life character who practically screamed out with his wardrobe and his actions, perhaps in relief at escaping the horrible life he could have lived.

He was a key piece of back-to-back titles in Detroit and, truth be told, just as vital as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago's second "three-peat."

"I call Michael God. I call Scottie Pippen Jesus. And I'm Hell. I'm the Devil," Rodman said. "And we worked together with that whole team. Everyone there was so special because everyone knew their roles. There was no bitching, no arguments. If we lose, we get mad at ourselves, not at each other. Next game we come back and kick ass. It was so special because we were so cool with each other. We knew we could win every time. We knew it."

So the Bulls sometimes laughed at his shenanigans, shook their heads and never let it bother them. Because they knew that beneath the halter tops and makeup was a Hall of Famer.

"To be honest with you, I'm surprised I'm still living," said Rodman, glancing around the room at all of the men wearing suits and ties. "I like to have a good time. I hang with the girls, do this, this and this. I own nightclubs. I own hotels. I like to go across country and enjoy myself.

"What the hell. With all the things that have happened with me, (bleep), I'm here. I'd say that's an accomplishment."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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