Dennis Rodman isn't shocking anymore. There is nothing left for him to pierce, dye or tattoo that would cause us to do more than raise an eyebrow, nothing he can say to persuade us he's any more bizarre than we already think he is. It's accepted now that Rodman spends most of his time in his private universe. The only surprise is how clearly he sees the world from that vantage point.
No one, for instance, has described the way he has fit in with his new Chicago Bull teammates better than Rodman himself does. "We have a good relationship," he says. "We don't talk to each other, but we have a good relationship."
As illogical as that sounds, it's true. Although Rodman has been on what qualifies as his best behavior with the Bulls—as of Sunday, with more than a week of training camp finished, he hadn't missed or been late for a single bus or plane or practice—some of his eccentricity still has been evident. There was, most visibly, his hair, newly dyed Bull red with the team's emblem in black. And as of the Bulls' second preseason game, a 114-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers last Saturday, Rodman had not had an off-the-court conversation with any of his teammates except backup center Jack Haley, his friend and confidant from his last two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, who is in camp trying to win a spot on the Bull roster. Rodman, the NBA's leading rebounder in each of the past four seasons, does whatever talking is necessary while he is on the court. But once he is through playing, he barely acknowledges his teammates.
Strange as it is—and with Rodman, what isn't?—that may be exactly the right course of action. If Chicago could have traded for Rodman's rebounding and defense and left his personality in San Antonio, they would have. The Bulls' two stars, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, make it clear that they are far more interested in Rodman's ability to fill a gaping hole in Chicago's front line (and thus possibly provide the edge in a struggle with the Orlando Magic for Eastern Conference supremacy) than in cultivating his friendship. Jordan and Pippen are the only Chicago players remaining from the years when Rodman committed various acts of mayhem against the Bulls as one of the baddest of the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boys. And although Jordan and Pippen were consulted and gave their approval before the Bulls traded center Will Perdue to San Antonio for Rodman on Oct. 2, it may be easier for them to forgive than to forget.
That is particularly true for Pippen, who still carries a scar under his chin from an incident in the 1991 playoffs when Rodman pushed him from behind into the first row of seats (Rodman was fined $5,000 by the NBA for the incident). At times Pippen still seems to regard his new teammate warily, as if he's not convinced that Rodman is no longer an enemy merely because they are wearing the same-color uniform. "No, I have not had a conversation with Dennis," he says. "I've never had a conversation with Dennis in my life, so I don't think it's anything new now."
As his 10 rebounds in 23 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Bulls' exhibition opener last Friday indicated, Rodman is still a quick and relentless jumper under the boards with an uncanny knack for gauging the angle at which the ball will come off the rim. He still lopes up and down the court like a colt, now wearing the odd-looking number 91, for which he had to obtain an exemption from a league policy banning jersey numbers higher than 55. Rodman chose 91 because the numerals add up to 10, the number that he has worn throughout his career but was retired by the Bulls in honor of former star Bob Love.
The arrival of Rodman neatly satisfies the Bulls' glaring need for a tough customer at power forward, a position at which Orlando and the other main Eastern Conference contenders—the Pacers, the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks—are exceptionally strong. There are those who question how well Rodman will fit into the Bulls' intricate triangle offense, but the team already likes his passing ability and court sense. "He's been playing against this offense so long that he probably knows it better than some of us," says Jordan. And Rodman should collect bushels of offensive rebounds when opponents leave him to double-team Jordan, Pippen or swingman Toni Kukoc.
Meanwhile the vision of the 6'8" Rodman clearing the defensive boards and sending the outlet pass to one of those three on the fast break is enough to make Bull fans salivate. Chicago rooters should also drool at the thought of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman, three of the NBA's best defensive players, putting the clamps on opposition scorers (though Rodman has become so concerned with rebounding that he may not be quite the perimeter defender he once was).
But Rodman has more in mind than the triangle offense and deft defense. He believes the Bulls need some muscle to go with their finesse. "We got enough guys to shoot jumpers," he says. "We need to knock some people on their butts, and that's what me and [center] Luc Longley are going to do. I'm going to teach Longley how to put somebody on the canvas."
The Bulls and their fans are well aware of Rodman's history as a problem child; they know what he can do for them, but they're just as cognizant of what he can do to them. Still, Rodman believes that he soon will be a fan favorite. "People love to hate Dennis Rodman," he says, "but once he's on their team, they love Dennis Rodman."