Right now all that has been revealed is a 34-year-old, sculpted 6'8" black man with hair of a red-orange color that looks like it was lifted off a 1977 Camaro. Eyes closed, Rodman is visualizing himself on stage with Pearl Jam, drumming to the beat of Indifference: "I'll swallow poison until I grow immune. I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room. How much difference does it make?"
In L.A., Rodman is the difference. Having survived a full-game benching for insubordination earlier in the series, he assumes the incongruous role of battle-tested leader. One by one before the game, teammates Sean Elliott, David Robinson and Avery Johnson approach the man who owns the only two NBA title rings on the Spurs' active roster and ask, "What's the best way to approach a game like this?" Rodman tells them to stop thinking and thrust themselves into the flow.
There are reasons Rodman is the best rebounding forward in NBA history, and the most important one is not that he works his butt off or gets outrageously physical or has no fear. It has more to do with the fact that, like hockey star Wayne Gretzky, he sees the game like no one else and is two moves ahead of the competition. He is less athlete than artist. He gets into his flow and becomes one with the ball, and before anyone else knows what's happening, it is his. "It's a whole different game for me," says Rodman, the winner of the last four NBA rebounding titles. "I know where the ball's going to go."
Once the game begins the L.A. fans ride Rodman hard. They chant, "Rodman sucks," but it becomes increasingly clear as he plays to the crowd—at one point he playfully knocks the hat off a courtside heckler—that he is made for this town. Athletically, he carries a mystical beauty. He runs up and down the court like a gazelle, and his defense is a study in body control. Even the weakest part of Rodman's game, his offense, is deceptively potent. "He can control the tempo of a game without scoring, and that's amazing," says teammate Doc Rivers, an 11-year guard. "He's a great offensive player. He's so smart, and he sees the floor like a guard. He'll set the key screen or make the great pass. His pass might not lead to the basket, but it's the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the basket."
San Antonio wins 100-88. Every time the Lakers make a charge, a burst of energy from Rodman helps repel them. For the first time as a Spur he assumes the unlikely role of floor leader, directing traffic with emphatic arm waves and barking out commands. Afterward he strides off the court, past the locker room and into an empty corridor. "This is what gets me so jacked, winning a series in L.A.," he says. "This town gets me off."
Rodman refuses to talk to the media, saying his teammates deserve the attention. Later he relents. Then in the parking lot he charges a Laker fan, chasing him down and grabbing him by the throat. Rodman's explanation? "He reached into my bag and stole my shades. I told him to keep the damn things." A 12-passenger stretch limo is there to rescue Rodman and transport him to Sanctuary, a trendy Beverly Hills hangout. "You need a name," yells Jack (Une) Haley, Rodman's friend, teammate and guardian angel. A seven-footer who seldom plays but has ridden Rodman's coat-tails to a small celebrity of his own, Haley is the Spurs' middle man, the guy who alternately explains Rodman to the world and explains the rules of the world to Rodman. Though Rodman seldom listens—"He rebels just to rebel," Haley says—the two form an odd couple who come with their own lingo. In exaggerated California accents the two bust out words like schnay, a rough equivalent of the term "not" that Rodman's ex-girlfriend, Madonna, helped popularize. The key word in this private language is june (pronounced gee-OOOON), which serves both as Rodman's nickname and as a verb form that can be substituted for virtually any act. Haley goes by the shortened Une, and now he's brainstorming. "I've got it! You're Si," he says, addressing me.
"No, Si—S.I., for your magazine."
I don't dare say schnay.
Sanctuary is filled with celebs, deal makers and ladies of the evening, but Rodman is the center of attention. His table includes Haley, models galore and comedian Jon Lovitz. Movie producers and agents come over to shake his hand and pine for his time. "I will be in show business," he says, "but I'm not going to play some weak-ass basketball player. That would be stupid." An agent who says he helped put together Pulp Fiction thinks Rodman would be a classic Quentin Tarantino villain. Rodman is interested, though he says he's also talking with Warner Bros, and Disney about big projects.