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Dennis Rodman feels the love in return to UC

“The electricity was really high, but they didn’t need me for that,” said Dennis Rodman, who presented the honorary game ball prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals matchup featuring the Bulls and Heat. “They’ve got this team, but being out there was really cool. It’s nice to see that people haven’t forgotten you. I’ll take it.”

Newly elected Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, on hand to present the honorary game ball at Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, caught up with former teammates Bill Wennington and Scottie Pippen before the game.

Former Bulls Gilmore, Winter and Rodman elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
>> Reinsdorf on Rodman: "One of the greatest rebounders of all-time"
>> Hall of Fame coverage: Michael Jordan | Class of 2009 and Scottie Pippen | Class of 2010

By Adam Fluck | 05.19.2011

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as Dennis Rodman found out Wednesday when he returned to the United Center for just the second time since he finished his NBA career.

Rodman had previously visited the arena in which he helped the Bulls win world championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998 only once, for the jersey retirement of Scottie Pippen in 2005.

And while a lot has happened to Rodman in the last year—most notably being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in April and turning 50 years old on May 13—he took a trip back in time on Wednesday, catching up with several former teammates and being embraced by Chicago fans one more time.

Dennis Rodman
Though he’s more into the trendsetting and celebrity way of life nowadays, Rodman's basketball career seems to remain at the forefront, more so than ever this week in Chicago. “I was loved here,” he said. “But I had to earn that love, as well as trust from my teammates.”

“The electricity was really high, but they didn’t need me for that,” said Rodman, who presented the honorary game ball prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals matchup featuring the Bulls and Heat. “They’ve got this team, but being out there was really cool. It’s nice to see that people haven’t forgotten you. I’ll take it.”

As for the Heat and any comparisons they and their stars might merit to the Bulls of the 1990s, Rodman doesn’t want to hear them.

“They don’t have the flair,” Rodman said. “Michael and Scottie never complained. They never tried to sit there and make excuses. They never did that, not even when they first started. They had to adjust to each other and once they did and they beat us in 1991, they figured out how to win.

“It’s like every time Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James] speak about being compared to somebody, they always have to have some explanation as to why it isn’t working, like they haven’t been together that long,” Rodman continued.

“Well I can give a good answer to that—I was here for less than half a year and we went 72-10,” Rodman added. “How long do you need to be with somebody to understand the game of basketball? You know who the captain of the ship is, you know who the first mate is and you know the role players. Basically, all you’ve got to do is come together and gel. You can’t have any excuses anymore. You get paid millions of dollars a year to go out and play ball and understand you’re a leader, not a follower.”

Rodman’s visit to Chicago was about much more than just presenting the game ball, as he caught up with former teammates Scottie Pippen, Bill Wennington and Steve Kerr, among others, as well as adversaries such as Charles Barkley. All congratulated him on one thing—landing among the games greats in the basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s cool, I’ve got the words Hall of Fame at the end of my name now,” said Rodman of his enshrinement, which will take place in Springfield, Mass. on Aug. 12. “It’s Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. It’s hard to describe because I’ve got kids at home that never saw me play. Now they can go to school and tell their friends, ‘My dad is in the Hall of Fame.’ So it’s cool for them. It’s basically for the people, the people of Detroit and Chicago, all the teams that I played for who didn’t kick me out.”

Adding extra significance for Rodman is that he’ll follow his former Chicago teammates Michael Jordan, Class of 2009, and Scottie Pippen, Class of 2010, into the basketball immortality. But that’s not where the Bulls’ ties to this year’s ceremonies end—former Bulls great Artis Gilmore and longtime assistant coach Tex Winter will also be enshrined.

“For me, Michael and Scottie to get in, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Rodman. “God had to get in, then Jesus, and now the other guy. A lot of people probably didn’t expect me to get in, and up until this point, wanted to see me fail and fall on my face. But like I said, coming back here is like a reunion with everybody in this city.

“I’d take being here over going to the Hall of Fame any day, because they’re going to love you here no matter what,” added Rodman. “The Hall of Fame is a one-time deal. I don’t get too many accolades like this, so maybe I’m not taking advantage of it, but I’m just trying to be as humble as I can.”

Whether or not the Bulls retire Rodman’s No. 91 remains to be seen. Currently only four numbers hang from the United Center rafters—Jordan’s 23, Pippen’s 33, Bob Love’s 10 and Jerry Sloan’s 4. And while Rodman, who had his No. 10 retired by the Detroit Pistons earlier this year, is hopeful that his No. 91 might join those greats, he understands it’s by no means a given.

“If it ever happens in Chicago, I’ll say to myself, ‘I played here three years and there are only four other numbers retired here,’” Rodman said. “Most of those guys had their whole career here and I only played three years here. Those are the things I take very, very much to heart.”

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about what it might be like to return to the United Center again for a ceremony in his honor.

“I really don’t even think I’d be able to talk, I’d probably have to have someone else talk for me,” laughed Rodman. “It’s too hard to describe because you see so many people here who have been around for 20 or 25 years. They’re still here and they still love their jobs, the people and the players. So it would be hard for me to even open my mouth, let alone be gracious and happy. Maybe I’d ask Phil Jackson to come in and talk for me. If it is retired, it will be for the people. It’s not for me, it’s for the people.”

As for an honor that he does know he’ll receive, the five-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has already given some consideration to how he’ll enjoy his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

“It’s going to be more about the kids and the people who love the game of basketball,” said Rodman. “Before I go in, I’m going to do some real cool stuff outside and not the traditional walking down the street, shaking hands. I’m going to do some real cool activities, I’ll change clothes a few times, and I’ll have a great outfit for when I jump on the stage.

“People are going to say, ‘Wow, he’s actually doing it again, huh, even at the age of 50 and in the Hall of Fame,’” added Rodman. “It’s going to be cool for everybody to see, especially if I come back here and get my number retired. I would do something special here too.”

At times during his return to the United Center, Rodman almost seemed surprised as to how well he was received by everyone which whom he came in contact. He was overcome with emotion as he spoke with the media before the game, disappearing behind a pipe and drape set up and cutting his availability short. And the ovation Rodman received while presenting the game ball was overwhelming.

“Maybe it’s just because people don’t see me that often,” said Rodman. “A lot of people worry about me because of some of the things I’ve done over the years. They expect me to do certain things that are not conducive to my lifestyle. So when they see me being happy and walking tall, keeping myself together, I think they’re happy to see me because of that. Most of these guys are my friends. It’s like a family reunion, a class reunion after not seeing these guys for so long. There is no animosity with anyone here. No animosity, no jealousy, none of this or that.”

Reflecting on a career which brought him to Chicago on Oct. 2, 1995 from San Antonio for Will Perdue, Rodman recalled sharing the court with two of the game’s greatest in Jordan and Pippen.

Dennis Rodman
"They saw me out all the time, saw me partying and doing this and doing that, but once I got on the basketball floor, it was a whole different ballgame," said Rodman of his three seasons with the Bulls. "I went out there and I worked, I wore my emotions on my sleeve every day, and I wanted the people to know I was there for them."
(Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)

“It’s like saying what would it be like to play with the Beatles in their heyday?” Rodman asked rhetorically. “What would it be like to play with the Rolling Stones in their heyday? What would it be like to play with Jimi Hendrix before he died at 27? What would it be like to play with those guys?

“You’re a part of history, a part of the history book that no one can ever compete with,” Rodman continued. “Michael Jordan is the greatest player to have ever played. I sat there, not in awe, but I was like, ‘Watch this,’ kind of like a big brother. I saw him get the ball and dance with the ball and it was amazing. Him and Scottie, it was a privilege just to get the rebound and watch them go because you knew they were about to dunk on you. That was what was so exciting.”

That was then and this is now for Rodman, who admittedly doesn’t keep close tabs on the NBA anymore, though he did watch as the Bulls won Game 1 against the Heat at one of his favorite Lincoln Park nightspots. And he has taken notice of a team that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, when Jordan, Pippen and Rodman’s Bulls captured the organization’s sixth world championship.

On Wednesday, Rodman said he’s impressed with the intensity and effort of Derrick Rose. He also talked about Joakim Noah, who has called Rodman a personal hero, saying Noah’s mentality and aura remind him of the spirit within his 10-year old son.

Rodman, who was listed throughout his career at 6-8, but is only 6-6, added he’s envious of Noah’s legitimate seven-foot status, saying he’d have won the NBA rebounding title every year with that kind of size. Seven straight seasons for three different teams wasn’t bad though, he admitted.

While he’s the same Dennis Rodman, it’s a new life he now leads at the age of 50 with his basketball career a dozen years behind him.

“I live day to day,” said Rodman of hitting the half century mark. “I don’t feel anything different unless one day I wake up and my back is out of line or my knees are really bad. That’s when I say, ‘Yeah, I’m old.’ But it’s not like that. Mentally, I keep myself in good condition. I don’t let people put me down too far because I’ve got to get up every day and understand how to live life.”

Though he’s more into the trendsetting and celebrity way of life nowadays, his basketball career seems to remain at the forefront, more so than ever this week in Chicago.

“I was loved here,” said Rodman. “But I had to earn that love, as well as trust from my teammates.”

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