The kick prompted the burger chain Carl's Jr. to temporarily pull its Rodman ads (it would later yank them for good), but that was the only backlash at the time from the companies for which he serves as pitchman. Indeed, in late January, Converse inked Rodman, then under league suspension, to an endorsement deal, thus joining a list that includes Kodak, Oakley sunglasses, Mistic beverages, Comfort Inn, the National Milk Board, Pizza Hut and Victoria's Secretfor whom Rodman posed in an ad so risque it never ran in the U.S.
"He appeals to the rebel in all of us, to the little voice that says, 'I want to be me,'" says Brian Murphy, editor of The Sports Marketing Letter. "There is a place in the marketing food chain for Rodman." In fact, Rodman is one of its biggest carnivores, having earned an estimated $9 million in endorsements in 1996. The money would come in handy during the season, as the 11-game suspension cost him $1.1 million in salary.
March 7 versus Indiana. A bear hug of the Pacers' Dale Davis earned Rodman his 20th technical of the season. Rodman had just returned from his third and last suspension of the season, the unpaid vacation coming after he punched Joe Wolf of the Milwaukee Bucks in the groin on March 3the second act of assault south of the border for which he was suspended but not T'd up. For the Pacers game, the Worm had gone all out with his hairdo, a fantasy in pink, blue and purple that had even his teammates speculating on its meaning. "I heard someone call it a pink skunk," said center Luc Longley.
March 22 versus Detroit. Rodman received his 25th and final technical of the regular season for shoving Pistons nice guy Grant Hill. There would undoubtedly have been more T's, but in the Bulls' next gameafter he had grabbed 21 rebounds in 30 minutes against the Dallas MavericksRodman sprained his left medial collateral ligament, which sent him to the injured reserve list for the remainder of the year.
The injury gave Rodman plenty of basketball downtime in Aprilserendipitously, since that would be one of his busiest months. April 4 saw the opening of the action thriller Double Team, in which Rodman plays a benevolent weapons dealer opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme. In its first week the film took in a respectable $5 million. Later in the month, Delacorte released the aforementioned Walk on the Wild Side, Rodman's second collection of lascivious anecdotes.
Also in April, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Sports Accessories and Memorabilia unveiled the long-awaited Dennis Rodman bobbing-head doll, featuring a red-haired Worm wrapped in a feather boa. Demand for the ceramic statuette proved strong even though shelves were already stocked with the 11-inch Rodman action figure, complete with two outfits, interchangeable heads and the caveat NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER THREE. "The demand for the Rodman doll exceeds anything we've ever done," said SAM vice president Mark Skigen.
April 26 versus Washington. Among the officials for the Bulls' postseason opener against the BulletsRodman's first game back from injurywere Bernhardt, the head-buttee from '95-96, and Steve Javie, a tough young ref who had once driven the normally angelic David Robinson to go postal on the court. Sure enough, Bernhardt slapped Dennis with a T late in the third, and Javie got him midway through the fourth. After the game, Rodman and Bulls coach Phil Jackson speculatedas they had beforethat the refs had it in for the Worm. "There were some young referees looking to stand up," Jackson said. "They weren't going to take anything." Rodman added the next day, "You can tell they were picking on me."
At times during the season Rodman did seem to draw special attention; on Feb. 22 against the Golden State Warriors, he picked up five fouls in a six-minute span.
May 26 at Miami. As he tangled with the likes of the Bullets' Gheorghe Muresan, Dikembe Mutombo of the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat's Alonzo Mourning, Rodman had received at least one technical foul in each of the Bulls' playoff games, a streak that had run to 11 by Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. That, Rodman vowed, is where it would end. "I'm going to do it," he said before Game 4. "No technicals. That's a guarantee."
But in the fourth quarter he and Mourning engaged in a wrestling match under the Bulls basket, resulting in a double technical. "He had [Mourning] in a death grip," Miami coach Pat Riley said afterward. Added Jackson, "I thought Dennis should have waited until he gets his WBA or WFA license to start something like that." (Rodman's actual deal, signed in March, is with World Championship Wrestling.)
For good measure, Rodman picked up a T in the decisive fifth game with the Heat, which brought the streak to 13 as the Bulls entered the Finals against Utah. That is where it would end. With 9.2 seconds remaining in a tied Game 1, a T-less Rodman was whistled for a foul on Karl Malone. Instead of blowing his top, though, the Worm kept his cool. The Mailman missed the free throws, the Bulls won the game and the streak was history.
In fact, both Rodman's play (5.2 points, 7.7 rebounds) and his on-court antics (one T) in the Utah series were relatively tame. Not so his off-court demeanor. Jetting to Salt Lake City for Game 3, he was asked what team he would like to play for next year. The Worm considered the flight's destination and responded, "The Utah Polygamists." Later, an even more offensive remark concerning Mormons earned him the largest fine in league history, $50,000.
Rodman is a free agent at season's end, but he most certainly won't be suiting up in Salt Lake City next year. Wherever he lands, though, he will have, among all his earrings and nose rings and eyebrow hoops, his fourth NBA championship ringthe one accessory even Mr. Blackwell wouldn't rebuke him for wearing.