Has any other player had an NBA season as bizarre as the one Dennis Rodman just went through? Don't be ridiculous

by Mark Bechtel

Chapters '96 and '97 of the Dennis Rodman saga began on a late summer afternoon in New York City's Rockefeller Center when the 35-year-old power forward pulled up to the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in a horse-drawn carriage, fully decked out in a wedding dress. On the David Letterman show the previous night, Rodman had told America he'd exchange vows the next day, but the following afternoon, there was no bride (or groom, for that matter) in sight. Having been left at the proverbial altar, Rodman sat down beneath a mural depicting such literary lights as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov and signed copies of his first book, Bad As I Wanna Be. The stunt, one of Rodman's most egregious displays of androgyny, landed him on Mr. Blackwell's list of the worst-dressed women of 1996.

photo by Manny Millan

When not flouting the fashion police, Rodman was usually getting into trouble with someone else this year—most likely an NBA referee. In his 55 regular-season games, Rodman was whistled for 25 technical fouls, and in the postseason he put together a Joe DiMaggio-like string of 13 games with at least one T. The Worm averaged 16.1 rebounds and 5.7 points in the regular season, but, as always, the public's attention was as important as his stat line. Return with us now as we thumb through the calendar of a season in which Rodman earned lackluster marks for artistic impression but perfect scores for technical merit.

Oct. 12 in Las Vegas. Ah, exhibition season—a time for players to hone the skills they will use most in the coming campaign, an opportunity to polish their pet moves. So it was that against the Seattle SuperSonics in Las Vegas, Michael Jordan glided his way to a team-high 17 points, Steve Kerr hit a big three-pointer and the Worm got tossed. "I had already picked up one technical foul," Rodman writes of the incident in his second book, Walk on the Wild Side. "And the game was running late and I was worried we'd miss our 11 p.m. dinner reservations. So, as it happened, I picked up another 'T' and was able to get the hell out of there and start my party night right on time."

The regular season beckoned. Rodman was ready.

Nov.2 versus Philadelphia. In the Bulls' second game, the home opener at the United Center against the 76ers, Rodman picked up his second regular-season T in as many outings. Afterward, to celebrate Chicago's 115-86 win, he and his entourage headed to his favorite Windy City establishment, Crobar, where on this night patrons were treated to a de-pantsed Dennis frolicking in a cage above the dance floor.

Dec. 8 at Toronto. Outplayed by Popeye Jones in a 97-89 loss to the Raptors, Rodman earned technicals number nine and 10, the latter coming in the waning moments, after he waved his arm in disgust at referee Mike Mathis. That second T also earned Rodman his second ejection of '96-97. (The first had come in Utah against the Jazz on Nov. 23.) In a live postgame television interview, Rodman vented his frustration with the officials in language bluer than a South Side guitar riff. The Bulls beat the NBA to the punch and suspended their man for two games.

His teammates were already less than thrilled by his play. "The last couple of guys he has faced have come out and played well, and he has not met the challenge," said Michael Jordan. "Why? I don't know. Maybe he's lost motivation."

At almost the exact moment of Rodman's postgame obscenity parade, MTV was debuting the premiere episode of The Rodman World Tour. The half-hour show, airing Sundays at 10 p.m., would offer viewers the chance to observe the famous and the nearly so hanging with the Worm. In the first installment Rodman rode motorcycles with Jay Leno and shot pool with Jon Lovitz. On subsequent shows he jammed in New York's Washington Square Park with Hootie and the Blowfish; referred to guest Kelsey Grammer, who had flipped his Dodge Viper and then entered substance-abuse rehab, as "Betty Ford"; and banged the skins with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who also accompanied Rodman to a body-piercing shop in L.A. After seeing Rodman nearly brought to tears by the pain of having a needle rammed through his eyebrow, Lee excogitated, "It just made me realize that he is a human being. He does experience pain, and he is normal. And, you know, that's pretty cool."

Not all of Dennis's guests were so free with their flattery. Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear—who had toured with Kurt Cobain as a member of Nirvana and so, one might think, would be inured to behavioral extremes—summed up his experience on the show with one word: "Uncomfortable." Viewers were anything but. Since its debut, the show has routinely drawn 70% more viewers than the average MTV prime-time offering.

February '97
Dennis had a new look for Leno in Vegas.

photo by Lennox Mclendon/AP

As for Jordan's expressed disapproval, Rodman mused that maybe the two would see eye to eye if His Airness spent a little time in Rodman's world—preferably in front of the MTV cameras. Though he failed to reveal the audience research behind his conclusion, he noted, "People would like to see me and Michael Jordan walking down a nude beach together." But not, he stressed, hand in hand. "Michael would never go for that."

Jan. 15 at Minnesota. After tripping over cameraman Eugene Amos during a game with the Timberwolves, Rodman kicked the unlucky Amos in the groin, an act of flagrancy rivaling the previous season's head-butt of referee Ted Bernhardt. Though he was not assessed a technical foul at the time (it would have been number 16), Rodman ultimately paid Amos a $200,000 settlement; the league suspended the Worm for 11 games.