Dennis Rodman's voice is barely audible over the music blasting from the speakers in the back of the black emerald Bentley. Still, he covers his mouth and leans close to a passenger to ensure that his words aren't heard by the car's driver, Dwight Manley, who serves as Rodman's agent and business manager. "This is my doing," Rodman says of the grandiose marketing campaign that, over the last 1½ years, has brought him near-icon status and a fortune in endorsement earnings. "Everything goes through me, but Dwight clears the path. He makes these things happen."
Up front, the man who plows the dirt for the Worm is zigging and zagging down the crowded San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles, demonstrating the same sharp moves he uses to steer Rodman's business affairs, which he began handling in July 1995. His ability to translate Rodman's outrageousness into profitable deals has helped to rescue Rodman from bankruptcy and turn him into a multimillionaire.
Manley is also Rodman's pal, an unlikely friend, to be sure. On the surface he and Rodman are opposites. Rodman is a former airport janitor who grew up in the rough Oak Cliff projects of Dallas. Manley sprang from an affluent neighborhood in Orange, Calif., a shy, nervous kid whose love for coin collecting earned him his first million by age 23. Rodman hangs out in nightclubs. Manley, who doesn't drink, prefers the golf course of the exclusive Newport Beach Country Club. Rodman, 35, is tough and intimidating. Manley is 30, but his soft voice and boyish face make him seem younger. For every earring and piece of leather in Rodman's wardrobe there's a sweater vest and a pair of khakis hanging in Manley's closet.
On this sunny afternoon in November, Manley looks like a hungover college fraternity boy rushing to an 8 a.m. class. A pair of baggy basketball shorts and a sweatshirt hang from his narrow 6'3" frame, and his thick brown hair is matted. But his appearance isn't important for the day's chores. The Chicago Bulls are in Los Angeles to play the Clippers, and Manley is never busier than when Rodman is in town. Today's schedule: Eat breakfast with Dennis, then drive to a magazine photo shoot, then to Newport Beach to see a $975,000 beach house they jointly own and, later, to the offices of the Rodman Group, the management company started by Manley and Rodman, which handles Rodman's affairs. "I offer full service," Manley boasts. "Most agents just handle the contract, but my staff [of six] and I do everything."
Rodman had no need for such attentions in the past because as Rodman's lawyer, Richard Howell, says, "no one would touch Dennis." At the start of the Manley-Rodman partnership, Rodman's marketability was zilch. He was known simply as the unruly forward for the San Antonio Spurs. He was reportedly close to $1 million in debt and was earning less than $100,000 annually from endorsements.
But where everyone else saw Rodman as a business manager's nightmare, Manley looked across the crap table when they first met, at a Las Vegas casino in 1993, and saw "a diamond in the desert that just needed some polishing," he says. "It was so obvious." During the off-season of '95 Rodman moved into a room at the back of Manley's house in Orange and turned his off-the-court business affairs over to Manley.
By this time the two men had become close friends, their similar painful experiences overshadowing their external differences. They shared lonely pasts marked by broken families. Manley also wasn't afraid to criticize Rodman. "Dennis used to say he was sick of the Spurs, and he was going to hold out," Manley says. "I said he had a contract, so he should keep his word. He said, 'F—-you!' but at least he knew I wasn't a yes-man."
Manley's self-confidence stems from his past as a rare-coin dealer. "Coin collecting was my escape from my parents' divorce when I was six," says Manley. "It started when I found a 1911 penny and learned I could sell it for 15 cents."
Manley skipped college to take a job with a coin dealer and within a year had gone into business for himself. He sold the business when he got involved with Rodman but still deals coins on the side and does consulting work for the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS in cases involving valuable coins.
Manley's first chore as a business manager was to keep Rodman in basketball. "Dwight was looking at representing a guy who wasn't going to play anymore," says Howell. "Dennis would sit in Dwight's house and stare off into space, saying, 'I'm not playing, I'm not playing.' " The only endorsement Manley could scrape up for Rodman was a Psychic Hotline TV commercial that paid $12,500.