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Scott Howard-Cooper

Rodman bares soul in emotional entrance to Hall of Fame

Posted Aug 13 2011 1:45AM

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Right there. Friday night, on stage, standing at the podium, emotions ricocheting around Symphony Hall. That's the Dennis Rodman people need to see more.

That's the Dennis Rodman who is hard not to like, even for the many who don't like him. Of course he is over the top like no one else as the only Hall of Fame inductee -- ever -- whose face would set off a metal detector and who wore two outfits so tres sheesh, one for the outdoor red-carpet arrival and the other for the enshrinement ceremony. Of course he chose a couple words that were indelicate for a crowd with a lot of children and a national-television audience. That's Rodman too.

The unmistakable realness, though. Even while admitting his image has at least been partially built on marketing fakery, Rodman was huffing hard breaths in a losing battle to keep his composure, making no such illusions about his life.

Bad father.

Bad husband.

Bad son.

Bad dresser. OK, he didn't say that part, but c'mon. Black jacket with PISTONS and BULLS in silver sequins on the back, DR stitched front left, a silver lame'-or-something scarf tied in front, white shirt unbuttoned and flowing from the wrists, black pants, white tennis shoes. The usual assortment of metallic-looking rings attached to his lips and face. A pin honoring late Detroit coach Chuck Daly, a man Rodman respected like few others, in the left lapel.

But in an era where the modern athlete is processed and too often hidden behind image consultants shaping a client into phony for marketing deals, there is still something appealing about the ones who will be themselves and speak from the heart. The same could be said about other inductees with NBA ties, with Chris Mullin, Artis Gilmore and Satch Sanders delivering wonderfully poignant acceptance speeches that moved from appreciation to humor to part career review. Theirs struck without the flamboyance because the words were clearly Mullin, Gilmore and Sanders. (Chris Winter spoke for his ailing father, Tex Winter, and Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis was quick with decent English.)

Rodman's impromptu therapy session will probably last forever as a level of outward emotion that is rarely reached and a reminder of why he attracted so many fans in the first place. The counter culture sure, but also because the Worm was always willing to be unvarnished, in good times and bad. That draws people.

Friday night, as the 10th and final speaker, with Phil Jackson standing a few steps away in the ceremonial, non-speaking role of presenter, Rodman was real and raw. That he was Rodman most of all means automatic condemnation of the speech from some, and it definitely was different, but it wasn't antics. Feeling the need to walk down the aisle from near the back row of the seats to the stage while everyone else through the years somehow managed to go from their seats near the front without turning it into a show, that was silly. Everything that came after was from the gut.

He toured the auditorium, stepped to the podium and needed two tries to get into the speech.

"Hold on," he said after one aborted takeoff, clearly choked up.

Rodman took seven seconds to gather himself. He started, then stopped before getting a full word out.

He thanked Penny Marshall, who was in the audience.

"She's doing my documentary," Rodman said. "I hope I'll be living by then."

Nervous laughter.

Moments later: crying.

When he spoke again, it was with the raspy voice of working to chase emotions from his throat.

"I didn't play the game for the money," Rodman said. "I didn't play the game to be famous. What you see here is more just an illusion, that I love to just be an individual that is very colorful."

He thanked David Stern and "all the NBA community, (for) even just having me in the building."

More laughter.

"This game has been very good to me," Rodman said. "I could have been anywhere in the world. I could have been dead. I could have been a drug dealer. I could have been homeless. I was homeless. A lot of you guys that have been in the Hall of Fame know what I'm talking about living in the projects and trying to get out of the projects. I did that, but it took a lot of hard work and a lot of bumps on the road."

No one was laughing anymore.

"I never had a father. My father left me when I was 5 years old. He has 47 kids in the Philippines. I'm the oldest one. He wrote a book about me in Chicago and made a lot of money, but he never came and said hello to me. That didn't stop me from persevering."

And: "I haven't been a great father. I haven't been a great husband. I can't lie. But (his wife) tolerated everything for 11 years and she's raised three beautiful kids."

Rodman pointed to his immediate family in the audience.

"She's been a mother and a father," he continued. "I've been very much appreciative of what she's done. When anyone says, 'Do you have any regrets in your career of being a basketball player?' I say, 'I have one regret. I wish I was a better father.' "

Throat clamp again. The crowd applauded, as if trying to offer emotional support.

Unprompted, he said, "I would love to set the record straight, and sorry that it has to be on this main stage here. Me and my mother have never gotten along." When it really didn't have to be on the main stage here, or anywhere. And in thanking Jackson for his support through the years with the Bulls, it was, "I was really burning both ends of the candle for a long time. That's the reason that I'm surprised I'm still here."

Not the Hall-of-Fame here. The anywhere here.

It was that kind of speech, mostly because it was that kind of person. Like him or not, it was pure Rodman exposed. Right there.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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