By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Few, if any, attention whores bigger than Dennis Rodman ever came through Chicago. Maybe Dan Bernstein, but that’s a debate for another time.
There were the odd hairstyles, the tattoos, the piercings, the cross dressing, and the celebrity STD Petri dishes Rodman dated that for many Chicago Bulls fans, and even basketball fans in general, will be what Rodman was. In the minds of so many, he was a freak show that happened to play pro ball.
But does he deserve that as the first paragraph of his obituary?
Watching Rodman’s speech at his induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame on Friday, it was hard not to get emotional as Rodman stammered through pouring his heart out to the world, putting little focus on his career or basketball accomplishments and instead confessing his sins of being a bad father, bad son, and a very imperfect person. Yes, I cried, so commence calling me effeminate names in the comments section below.
Rodman was at the podium last Friday, face full of metal, donning a flamboyant outfit. “What you see here,” he choked out through his own tears, “is more just an illusion that I’d love to just be an individual that’s very colorful.” The real man shown through that illusion, though, as he displayed genuine appreciation for those who helped him get through the uniquely difficult path before, during, and after his playing career — a career he loved more than any pro wrestling stunt or nude magazine pictorial he took part in away from the game during those years.
While the speech wasn’t typical of an athlete going into a Hall of Fame, we should have expected something atypical of The Worm. But Rodman wasn’t our son or father or boyfriend, so why remember him for his personal imperfections more than the fantastic player he was on the court, particularly for three championship seasons as a Bull?
Rodman was a once-in-a-generation player with his defensive skills coupled with his less-than-typical size for a power forward. Even with arguably the best player of all time and another top 50 all-timer, one could argue that without Rodman the Bulls don’t have those last three trophies. Was Dickey Simpkins going to stop Karl Malone?
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and perhaps Derrick Rose are all once-in-a-generation players, too, but the first thought when their names are mentioned is not an off-the-court incident. We think of their play on the hardwood. Shouldn’t Rodman deserve the same in our nostalgia?
Rodman certainly is to blame for our mental pictures. He went out of his way as a Bull to have the talk about him be almost anything besides basketball. But at the same time, that one-man circus act makes his contributions to those Bulls teams on the court all the more impressive. Few people have been able to pull off the side show thing while successfully producing on the court (unlike the Baby Huey of the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano, sadly). Rodman did and did so marvelously.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is often praised for having his soundbytes deflect negative attention from his players. Rodman did that before it was cool, attracting attention to himself, positive and negative, on the court and off, while letting the rest of the team focus on their mission, whether it was intentional or not.
But is Dennis Rodman valued in Bulls fans hearts and minds for the player he was and the sheer sports joy he helped bring to this town and not considered an alien in a wedding dress who made us scratch our heads often? I often get the feeling the answer is no.
Roaming the grounds of Lollapalooza this year, it was hard not to notice the massive amount of basketball jerseys being worn by the festival goers. Far and away the most common were Michael Jordan jerseys. Pippens were also quite popular. I saw at least a dozen Roses. I saw a damn Darius Miles, for the love of all that’s unholy. I saw two Rodmans. If even the hipster faction of Bulls fandom isn’t showing their appreciation of The Worm, a hipsters athlete if there ever was one, I fear that his reputation is doomed.
At one point in the induction speech Rodman said, “I didn’t play the game for the money. I didn’t play the game to be famous.” He wasn’t lying. The man loved basketball for all the right reasons. I only hope basketball fans love Rodman for all the right ones, too.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.