Rodman repentant in emotional Hall of Fame speech

Dennis Rodman with Phil Jackson

In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, Rodman kept going back to his four horsemen, Phil Jackson, Chuck Daly, James Rich and Jerry Buss, whom he said if combined would be “one perfect individual. Call any time of day, a hand to shake, a shoulder to cry on, someone to speak your mind.”
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

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By Sam Smith | 08.13.2011 | @SamSmithHoops

They’d been through all the speeches except for one, the first nine enshrines in the Naismith Basketball Memorial Hall of Fame Class of 2011.

There was Artis Gilmore, uncharacteristically eloquent, chatty and funny and Tex Winter looking strong standing astride son Chris. There was a wonderfully dramatic talk raising the horrors of the segregated South by the son of the late Harlem Globetrotter Reece “Goose” Tatum, an evocative walk by Chris Mullin through his trials and triumphs, a passionate thanks from four time Olympic gold medalist Teresa Edwards and a comfortable-as-your-next-door neighbor session with NCAA wins leader Herb McGee from Philadelphia University.

And then, in the grand Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass. near where Dr. James Naismith invented the game, came not exactly what the Canadian doctor ever envisioned.

Yes, it was time for Dennis Rodman, wearing his second outfit for the evening, a black jacket with red piping and scarf with his Chicago and Detroit uniform numbers in sequins, a lace shirt with white sneakers and a CD pin to commemorate his late Pistons coach Chuck Daly.

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NBA commissioner David Stern sitting along the aisle as Rodman strolled toward the stage smiled and muttered, “Oh gosh,” echoing just about everyone’s anticipatory thoughts about what to expect.

But it was a beautiful time for Rodman, who alternately broke down, unable to start his comments for a few minutes before he intermingled humor, thanking Stern for allowing him into the building, while also apologizing to his mother, wife and children for not being the son, husband and father he wished he could have been.

Rodman mixed in a few minor obscenities, though directed at himself as he was thanking Phil Jackson for being such a great supporter, even if Dennis was being a (butt) or (Richard), and some humor as he related his first meeting with the Bulls and Jackson asking him to apologize to Scottie Pippen for assaulting him in the 1991 playoffs. Dennis said he couldn’t do that and didn’t give a darn, or something like that.

It was the kind of attitude and toughness the Bulls were looking for.

“Welcome to the Chicago Bulls,” Jackson said.

And, welcome Dennis to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the most unlikely destination in what was certainly the most remarkable of journeys.

It is for everyone, sports hall of fames being truly special, because the honor is for a career of doing something you figured your whole life you’d do for nothing if they just let you.

And here they are standing and cheering for you, and all you ever wanted to do from about as long as you can remember is play this little game.

Perhaps that’s why it is so special—because it is so unbelievable that you are honored for living your dream.

Such is generally the reaction of enshrines, like Gilmore, who stood erect and proudly announced as he began his remarks: “My name is Artis Gilmore. And I am a member of the basketball Hall of Fame.”

Overdue, but still hard to believe.

Dennis Rodman

Gilmore, a kind, generous, popular man, was also known as exceedingly gentle for the rugged center position and a man of few words and less emotion.

But the ABA champion and Bulls center of the late 1970s and early 1980s was entertaining and versatile in saying he had some answers: “Yes, the weather up here is fine. Yes, I was a basketball player.

“Millions of people have laced up sneakers since Dr. Naismith invented the game,” Gilmore said. “Everyone wants to be in my shoes today. None of them appreciate it more than I do.”

Gilmore talked fondly of the ABA being “Showtime before there was Showtime,” and saying among his thank yous he’d like to thank his doctor. He then turned to his Hall of Fame host, which every recipient has, Julius Erving. Gilmore added his one regret was preceding Michael Jordan. If Jordan came first, Gilmore quipped, he wouldn’t be seen in those awful short pants.

So he said he was joining, “the Stilt, the Hick from French Lick, the Doctor, Magic, and his Airness in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. What a great day. What a great country.”

Although I wrote earlier Friday about having a nice conversation with Tex Winter, Tex isn’t able to give a speech after his stroke two years ago. So his son Chris offered some remarks, going long at one point so Tex whispered to him, “Move it.”

Tex was having a ball and although you cannot say it was the Paris Peace treaty, Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause at Tex’s request met before the ceremony and chatted, ending a long period of estrangement.

“I was able to introduce (girlfriend) Jeanie to them (Jerry and wife Thelma),” said Jackson. “It was good. No big deal.”

Jackson did say he wished Tex could express himself for the crowd, though it was clear Winter was thrilled and spent about 20 minutes after the conclusion signing autographs for fans in the Hall of Fame program. It wasn’t quite a pinch post diagram, but it was a man who was thrilled about what was happening.

“It certainly was something he deserved and that he deserved many years ago,” said Krause. “He was a Hall of Famer when he came to us (in 1985). It just wasn’t acknowledged.”

As for his talk with Jackson as the two sat a few seats apart just behind Winter, Krause said, “Nice, very cordial. I even shook hands with Todd Musburger (Jackson’s agent).”

Former Bulls Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler and assistant Jim Cleamons, who is on the way to coach in China, also came to support Rodman and Winter.

“These days it’s an annual pilgrimage for me and Jud to come see old teammates,” said Kerr of Pippen and Michael Jordan being inducted the last two years.

“Tex had such a huge influence on my life,” said Buechler, now coaching his two daughters and Kerr’s daughter in beach volleyball leagues in San Diego. “I’m a 14th or 15th guy with a make good contract. His offense allowed me to play in the NBA. There was so much clear out, one on one play, which was not my game. The triangle allowed me to make basketball decisions, use my intelligence and basketball skills.”

Rodman, despite his bizarre behavior, actually was one of the most astute students of the game and the offense. Jackson said he picked up the triangle quickly and the Hall of Fame showed an impressive video of Rodman’s defensive work before his appearance.

Rodman, as is often the case when he is around, was the show and he came to the ceremony wearing a silver suit and ascot with black cowboy hat with feather, white wraparound sun glasses and white shoes.

After sitting a while in that outfit as the first few enshrines made their speeches, Rodman left to change clothes for his appearance, which despite the morbid anticipation, was much like the Dennis many around the Bulls knew.

As Dennis reiterated early in his often stream of conscience comments, “What you see here is an illusion… I love to be just an individual that’s very colorful.”

I get accused at times of amateur psychology with Rodman. He certainly was a force in the game and I can accept him being in the Hall of Fame, though never being the player primarily responsible on his team can always engender debate.

Did James Worthy belong? He was the third best player on his team. But he also had a great college career, and the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame honors all basketball, not just what you did in the NBA. So the debates about players like Rodman continue. But you can debate many players from the champion Celtics who are in the Hall of Fame given they were fourth and fifth wheels.

The debate about Rodman often was whether he was good for the game or a detriment with his behavior. And, yes, when the Bulls took him in 1995 he was radioactive around the league after helping undermine his Spurs teams.

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But Dennis’ life has been a lifelong search for that male role model and authority figure, which he touched on again in his speech, noting his father left when he was a child and saying how his father wrote a book only to profit off his fame but never provided any love or support.

Daly was that figure as was Jackson, who stood up for both Rodman and Winter at the ceremonies. Rodman also mentioned Lakers owner Jerry Buss and James Rich from the family who took him in when he was thrown out of his Dallas home.

Dennis apologized to his mother, who was in attendance, even though he said they were estranged for years because of his resentment of her actions. Still, he didn’t deny he was deserving of the punishment.

That was also the Dennis we knew around the Bulls. He needed people around him, though he really was shy and being the center of the party was more the act than the person.

He was a follower, which he was in Detroit, and the act, the image, the illusion, as Dennis put it, was likely the work of actress/singer Madonna, whom Rodman dated during his tenure with the Spurs. She was about being something else to shock and not coincidently, that’s also when Dennis’ behavior turned more to the bizarre.

And Dennis’ life had begun to unravel in Detroit. Daly had left to coach the Nets. His wife left him. Isiah Thomas was retiring. It seemed everything he’d built up warily in his new life was leaving him again, that he was being evicted once more. Who would be there this time? The Spurs were a terrific basketball team, but not what Dennis was seeking.

That mix of emotions still bubbled within and alternately would come out in rage or tears or joy or anxiety, burning the candle at both ends, as he said, an awful lot of alcohol and an awful lot of company so perhaps he didn’t have to stop too long to examine just what he had done or become.

But Dennis Friday did pause and take account, at least in his own sometimes inarticulate way, and opened up as much as he is generally able to of the Dennis that lies deep within.

Overcome to start, Rodman sputtered, “Sorry, Scottie” to Pippen, who was sitting up front. He went through a long list of thank yous to friends and managers who kept him out of trouble or tried and 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. It took a lot of hard work and bumps along the road.”

He talked about that, but kept going back to his four horsemen, Jackson, Daly, Rich and Buss, whom he said if combined would be “one perfect individual. Call any time of day, a hand to shake, a shoulder to cry on, someone to speak your mind.”

Rodman credited Jordan and Pippen as his best teammates, though he said he “might be downplaying” Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas, neither of whom were in attendance. But he said it was the two Bulls with Jackson, who Rodman walked toward several times on the stage as if for help.

Each inductee is asked to have a Hall of Famer stand as a presenter when they speak and it seemed many times Dennis wanted to lean on Phil’s shoulder then.

Dennis went on that his wife, Michelle, “put up with a lot of crap from me,” and his biggest regret, as he said in his media remarks Thursday, was not being there enough for his kids. And he concluded talking about his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and again accepting blame.

“I wasn’t a good kid,” he said.

But Rodman said his mother worked three jobs to provide for the family and there wasn’t the time for the love he needed, and needed more from a male figure as well. Not an excuse, just an apology and acknowledgment.

“I was burning both ends of the candle for a long time,” Dennis said. “That’s why I’m surprised I’m still here. But I want to set the record straight. I’m actually trying to be the father to my kids and thank you guys.”

And with that he was off and the big crowd was charmed and if there might still be some debate about Rodman’s credentials for the Hall of Fame there were fewer and fewer about them as a person. The Hall of Fame was taking in a curious man, but a very nice and repentant one.

2011 Hall of Fame