Those Pistons, not coincidentally, featured Rodman, albeit in a far less flamboyant incarnation. Some athletes put on their game faces; Rodman does his game hair. The new 'do he unveiled before Game 1 was a multicolored jumble of symbols and designs that made him look as though graffiti artists had mistaken his head for an abandoned building. (His critics would call that a perfectly understandable error, but we digress.) "I think it speaks for itself, doesn't it?" Rodman said of his hairstyle. It did, but exactly what it was saying was anyone's guess. A peace sign, an AIDS ribbon and what Rodman referred to as tribal art were part of the collage, painted in a tie-dyed pattern as a tribute to Chicago coach and Grateful Dead lover Phil Jackson.
Rodman and Brickowski, who sports a crew cut, weren't exchanging the phone numbers of their stylists when they tangled late in the first half of the series opener. Rodman had picked up a technical in the first quarter, and it didn't take a genius to see that one of the burly Brickowski's goals was to lure Rodman into a second T and the automatic ejection that would accompany it. Trying to bait the Worm, however, is to engage the master at his own game, as Brickowski found out. He was called for a flagrant foul after clubbing Rodman while battling for a rebound, then was ejected moments later by referee Joey Crawford after exchanging words with the Bulls' Jack Haley.
None of this pleased Karl, who thought Rodman had flopped to draw the flagrant-foul call on Brickowski and who complained at length about it to the media the next day. This was more than just a coach's typical lobbying of the referees through the media. To Karl, Rodman is like an infidel in the temple. "Dennis Rodman is the guy laughing at the NBA," Karl said the day after Game 1. "He laughs at his teammates. He laughs on TV. He laughs at the referees, and they still kiss his butt. It's crazy."
Maybe it is, but there is a method to Rodman's madness. It took him exactly one half to help goad a key Seattle reserve into an ejection and to become a distraction to the Sonics. But that was nothing compared with the damage he would do to Seattle in Game 2, especially at crunch time, when he turned the game into his own personal stage. In the final minute he grabbed a clutch offensive rebound of a miss by Kerr, won a key jump ball to preserve a three-point Chicago lead and hit the clinching free throw. Earlier, Rodman had found time to chat up Karl. "Are we still friends?" he asked the Sonics coach. "We're still friends," Karl replied. Without Rodman's performance, the Bulls would have gone to Seattle with the series even. "There's more to Dennis Rodman than meets the eye," Rodman said afterward, leaving others to ponder that frightening thought while he headed off for an evening with the artist formerly known as Prince, both of them perhaps hoping to find a Chicago nightspot where it was Androgynous Celebrity Night.
In fact, since November, it has been one long party for the Bulls, whose combined regular-season and playoff record through Sunday was an astonishing 86-11. Everything seems to have gone right for Chicago in '95-96, and the Finals were no exception. When Harper suddenly came up with a sore left knee during warmups before Game 3, Jackson inserted sixth man Toni Kukoc into the starting lineup, and he proceeded to hit three quick jump shots, including a three-pointer, to help stake the Bulls to their big first-quarter lead. Center Luc Longley provided surprising scoring punch with a playoff career-high 19 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. Pippen, who had 21 points in both of the first two games, added balance in Game 3 with a near triple-double (12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds).
"That's the kind of team we have," Rodman said after Game 3. "Nothing gets to us, nothing makes us lose our cool. Not even me. Everybody wants to say Dennis Rodman's crazy, but I'm not. Dennis Rodman knows exactly what he's doing." Then Rodman began to make his way through the crowd toward an elevator in Key Arena. Fans were calling his name, reporters were begging to ask just one more question, and Cindy Crawford was on her way to join him for a television appearance. As the elevator doors closed, the last thing the crowd saw was Rodman shaking his head. And smiling.