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The Story Of Dennis Rodman: From A Troubling Childhood To Becoming A “Bad Boy” And NBA Champion

The Story Of Dennis Rodman: From A Troubling Childhood To Becoming A “Bad Boy” And NBA Champion

In the late 1990s, it seemed like almost every NBA fan was coloring their hair. The reason for this was because of a rebounding specialist that played for the Chicago Bulls... I'm talking about Dennis Rodman.

Rodman is one of the most unique players the NBA has ever seen. From wearing a wedding dress to the signing of his autobiography, Bad As I Wanna Be, to marrying former Baywatch star Carmen Electra.

Most fans remember these moments from Rodman. But what if I told you Rodman's childhood wasn't so glamorous?

Dennis Rodman: A Troublesome Childhood

Dennis Rodman was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 13, 1961. His father is Philander Rodman Jr., and his mother is Shirley Rodman.

Philander, who was enlisted in the Air Force, ran out on his family when Rodman was just three years old. This was hard on Rodman, Shirley, and Rodman's two younger sisters, Debra and Kim.

It's been said that Philander fathered over 25 other children. This was tough for Rodman at first, but he soon stopped caring about wanting a relationship with his father.

“I didn't consider I had a father,” Rodman said in a 1996 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “Because I didn't know him, really.”

Shirley would work four jobs to support the family, which was hard for Rodman. Not only was Shirley hardly home, but when she was, she didn't show the type of affection most kids see from their parents.

“I don't remember when my mother ever hugged me or anything; I don't remember that,” Rodman said about Shirley. “I don't remember if she embraced us and held us. I can't even think of one [time].”

This lack of love and support at home affected Rodman, and it would show later on in his life in his own relationships.

The family moved to Oak Cliff, a crime-riddled section of Dallas, Texas, shortly after Philander left. There, Rodman struggled to make friends because he was insanely shy.

This shyness didn't help Rodman in high school, as he was often bullied for being quiet. Rodman's sisters, on the other hand, were great basketball players in school.

The one place where Rodman did break out of his shell was at the local gym, on the basketball court. Now, Rodman loved to play basketball, but he wasn't that good.

Rodman would team up with his sisters, and they'd play and beat teams of men; his sisters were the real stars.

After high school, Rodman wasn't recruited by any colleges. His sisters, on the other hand, were recruited.

Debra played basketball at Louisiana Tech. After college, she played professionally for the Dallas Diamonds and also overseas. Kim played basketball at Stephen F. Austin, a public university in Nacogdoches, Texas.

After high school, Rodman's mother kicked him out of the house since he didn't have a job. This left Rodman homeless and with no path in life.

“I thought I would be in jail," Rodman tells Jackie MacMullan of ESPN. “I thought I'd be a drug dealer or be dead. Those were my options.”

Rodman would sleep out in the yard at his friend's house. He also would borrow his friend's clothes to wear since he had none.

Every day you could count on finding Rodman at the local gym playing basketball. The funny thing about Rodman during this time was that he wasn't sad about being homeless. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“I wasn't sad,” Rodman explained. “I never cried about not going home. I never cried about my sisters and my mother, my so-called father, or any one of my relatives I never knew about. I was so used to living life this way.”

Rodman would eventually get a job as a janitor at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, but it wouldn't last long. One night Rodman broke into a shop at the airport and stole some watches.

Rodman would eventually be caught and arrested for this incident. Luckily, Rodman would get off without any charges, but he'd, of course, lose his job.

Rodman continued to play basketball every day, and he eventually enrolled in Cooke County Junior College, a community college in Dallas. He'd play one semester of basketball before dropping out for having bad grades.

Rodman's grades may have gone down, but his height rose significantly. He went from being 5'9” to 6'7” over the summer.

Rodman played ball in a summer basketball camp, and this camp would change his life forever. At the camp, Rodman met Bryne Rich, a 13-year-old kid.

“He was real tall and skinny,” Bryne said in a 1987 interview with The Chicago Tribune. “And he had a couple of quarters in his ears. I just kept looking at him, and after a while, he came down to where I was and started shooting. After a while, we started playing one-on-one. After that, I just started liking him, and we started being friends.”

Bryne was at the basketball camp because he was trying to get over a horrific tragedy. While hunting, Bryne accidentally shot and killed his friend.

Both Bryne and Rodman were troubled young men, and this is probably why they hit it off as friends. Rodman would eventually stay with Bryne's family, and they gave him emotional support and encouragement, which he desperately needed.

Dennis Rodman: College Star

While playing basketball at the camp, college scouts took notice of Rodman's game. Once Rodman left the camp, he ran into his mother while still living on the streets. She offered to bring him back home if he promised to get a job; Rodman went home.

Once home, it wasn't long until his mother was trying to kick him out again. Right before he was about to leave, a knock at his door would change his life forever:

“There was a knock on the door, and I answered the door, and two white guys in the doorway asked if Dennis Rodman here?” Rodman said in his interview with Jackie MacMillan. “I said, 'that's me.' They said, 'all right, I'm Lonn Reisman, and he's Jack Hedden. We'd like to invite you to our university to try you out for a scholarship'”.

(Start at 23:08):

Rodman, though not believing it at first, decided to go with Reisman and Hedden to Southeastern Oklahoma State University to work out with them. There, a game of H-O-R-S-E would convince Reisman that Rodman was right for the school's basketball team.

Rodman would become a star at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. In three years at SOSU, Rodman averaged 25.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game.

Rodman was a three-time NAIA All-American while in college. He was the best player the school had ever seen, yet, this couldn't save Rodman from dealing with racism.

There weren't too many African Americans in Oklahoma during the 1980s, and Rodman, despite being incredible on the court, had to deal with many racist outbursts by being in the community.

The community itself wasn't the end of the racism for Rodman to face; he had to deal with it at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, as well.

In one instance, Rodman and his friend, Bryne Rich, were confronted by two white men. They forced Rodman and Bryne to the park, held a shotgun to his face, and threatened to kill him if they saw him with a white woman again.

Rodman told this heartbroken story on The Breakfast Club:

Rodman had faced many trials and tribulations in his young life, but this didn't stop him from making something of himself. In the 1986 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selected Rodman in the second round with the 27th overall pick.

Rodman Becomes A Defensive Stopper And An NBA Champion

Dennis Rodman made it to the NBA. He became a somebody after his mother, and everyone else seemed to give up on him. Detroit would become the perfect place for Rodman because they valued a family atmosphere in the Pistons' locker room.

Pistons coach Chuck Daly acted as a father figure to Rodman, and this was precisely what he needed.

Also, the Pistons had this “us against the world” mentality, which occurred as a side effect of their “Bad Boy” image.

This mentality as a team helped the players bond together as a family. Rodman would succeed as an individual in Detroit by winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons (1990, 1991).

Rodman also saw team success as his Detroit Pistons won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. The “Bad Boy” Pistons were the toughest and most rugged team in the league, and Rodman had a lot to do with it.

The Worm Leaves Detroit And Finds A Home In Chicago

By October 1993, things looked way different for the Detroit Pistons. Coach Chuck Daly was gone from the team, Isiah Thomas was a shell of himself, and Rodman was traded to the San Antonio Spurs.

In San Antonio, Rodman started to change his image. He began to dye his hair different colors, and he got piercings, and tattoos, as well.

NBA fans knew Rodman by his unique nickname, “The Worm”, which seemed to fit this new personality perfectly. The fact of how Rodman got this nickname came from his childhood when he wiggled his body while playing pinball like a worm; his mother gave him this nickname.

This sudden change in attitude was born from a deeper meaning than just moving to a new team. It was born from an incident in 1993 that almost cost Rodman his life.

Back in 1993, while still a member of the Pistons, Rodman fell into a deep depression. Coach Daly left the Pistons at this time and Rodman's wife at the time divorced him.

What made things worse was that his now ex-wife kept their child from Rodman. He was broken, and he felt alone, just as he did when he was younger.

One night, Rodman wrote a suicide note and left it with a friend, and he sat in his car with a loaded shotgun. Luckily, Rodman fell asleep and was woken up by the police.

In an interview with Bleacher Report, Rodman gave a chilling recount of that night in 1993:

“So one day, I wrote a note and went to the parking lot of the Palace. I had a gun rack, and I had a gun in my car. I had it in my hand. But for some reason, I played this music. I put it on, and I was listening to this song and this music, and I was just debating. It didn't have anything to do with basketball. It had to do with this love that I wanted, and it suddenly just left me.”

This is certainly the thought of a man who needed and wanted help. Rodman went on to say more about that night:

“And this song came on. It was Pearl Jam. Even Flow and Black and stuff like that. And I had the gun in my lap, and next thing you know, I fell asleep listening to Pearl Jam. Then I woke up, and all the cops and everyone was there. I didn't know what was going on. I totally forgot I had a gun in my hand. They got me out of the car. That was pretty much what it was. It wasn't about the game of basketball. It was about feeling betrayed, because I wanted to be loved so much in my life.”

This is a crazy story to hear, but there's more. The reason Rodman had to think over what he was going to do and not just do it was because of some words from a beloved media member.

The late, great, stylish NBA analyst, Craig Sager, encountered Rodman earlier that night and stopped him from committing suicide:

“He had the gun. He was going to do it. I told him how stupid that would be,” Sager said in a later interview.

When Sager passed away in 2016, Rodman gave his respects to Sager for saving him that night:

Rodman was a new man in 1994, but his time in San Antonio wouldn't go as smoothly as he had hoped. He clashed with the Spurs' star, David Robinson, who was a religious man.

Rodman's antics didn't sit well with Robinson and the San Antonio community. After the Spurs lost in the 1995 NBA playoffs, the Spurs traded Rodman to the Chicago Bulls, which would be the change Rodman needed.

Rodman joined the former three-time champion Bulls, who Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led. The three players meshed together perfectly, and this was led by legendary coach Phil Jackson.

Jackson acted somewhat similar to Chuck Daly, as Rodman saw him as a father figure. Rodman also respected Jordan, whose leadership kept him in line... Well, somewhat.

Rodman had his moments, on and off the court. In a 1997 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rodman famously kicked a cameraman, which led to an 11-game suspension without pay.

The NBA also fined Rodman $25,000, and he paid $200,000 to the cameraman to have him drop the charges of fifth-degree assault. This wasn't good, but this wasn't all.

Rodman dealt with alcoholism, and it got so bad that he almost lost all of his friends. He also had strenuous relationships with famous women, including Carmen Electra and Madonna.

There was even that famous story featured in The Last Dance documentary of Michael Jordan having to go to Las Vegas to retrieve Rodman, who was granted a temporary 'holiday'. Coach Phil Jackson knew Rodman needed a break from time to time.

So, Jackson granted Rodman a 48-hour vacation, where Rodman went to Las Vegas with Carmen Electra. This was fine until Rodman didn't return to the team after the 48 hours ended.

So, the Bulls' leader, Michael Jordan, went to Vegas to retrieve Rodman. There, Jordan found Rodman in bed with Electra.

“I do remember being in Vegas with [Dennis],” Electra said. “The party was starting right away. One thing about Dennis, he had to escape. He liked to go out. He liked to go to clubs. We’d go to his favorite restaurant. Then we’d go to a nightclub. Then we’d go to after hours. It didn’t stop. It was definitely an occupational hazard to be Dennis’s girlfriend. He was wild. But to be honest, I didn’t realize what the team’s schedule was. I didn’t know he took a detour.”

Jordan successfully brought Rodman back to the Bulls, and they'd later go on to win their third straight championship. Rodman was now a five-time NBA champion, and there was no denying his basketball greatness.

Despite how good Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were, it's safe to say the Bulls don't win all three later titles without Rodman. There can even be an argument made that Rodman should have won the 1996 NBA Finals MVP against the Seattle SuperSonics.

After the Bulls' final three-peat, the team was split up, including Rodman, who was released on January 21, 1999. Rodman would play a combined 35 games in 1999 and 2000 for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

After no NBA team would sign him, Rodman would play in other basketball leagues and overseas for a few teams before officially retiring in 2006. This ended a career that saw many great moments and plenty of wild on-the-court and off-the-court moments, including fighting Karl Malone in WCW's pay-per-view event named Bash at the Beach.

Since retiring, Rodman's name had popped up in the news on a few occasions, including when the media ran the story of Rodman's unlikely friendship with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. Rodman called the North Korean leader a “friend for life,” in an interview with Business Insider, and he stated that Kim is not like how he is portrayed and that he is “cool and pretty nice”.

In 2011, Rodman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor he rightfully deserved.

Rodman was recently named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. It was great to see him in high spirits, talking to the other players named to the team.

As NBA fans, we hope “The Worm” continues to live a happy life and to continue to always be himself. That's the greatest thing any of us can do… To be ourselves.


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