It's 1 a.m. last Thursday, a few hours after he helped usher the Chicago Bulls into the Eastern Conference finals by retrieving 21 rebounds in a 93-84 defeat of the Charlotte Hornets, and Dennis Rodman has had enough. He decides to take leave of the human menagerie assembled to wish him a happy 37th birthday at Illusions in downtown Chicago. Implausible though this may seem, the night holds more compelling amusements than a dwarf in a 'do rag, a second-string Elvis impersonator, a man who claims to be Miss Gay Humboldt Park, an extravagantly endowed woman known professionally as Colt .45 who emerged from a birthday cake with both barrels blazing, sundry commoners who tithed $10 apiece to fete the Worm on his natal day, and a male emcee in a feather boa.
Rodman slips behind the wheel of his black pickup, only to discover that a valet has thoughtlessly parked it facing the wrong way on a one-way street. When there's a ball to get to, the NBA's rebounding champion isn't one to bother with anything like a three-point turn. So with Baywatch siren and Rodman consort-of-the-moment Carmen Electra, swaddled in a tiger-print catsuit, sharing the front seat, he throws the transmission into reverse.
Backward down three city blocks he goes. Then a dogleg left and up a freeway on-ramp, backward still. Here he gets the truck pointed in the right direction, but only so he can floor it. With each stitch in and out of traffic, with every bend in the road, you can feel the G-forces gather and you can envision the Bulls' chances for a sixth ring being scuppered on a shoulder of the Kennedy Expressway.
Thus the remotest hours of the night unspool: first at a strip club, the Crazy Horse Too, and later at a darker palace of priapism called Crobar—places peopled by writhing dancers and a handful of jocks (the Chicago Blackhawks' Chris Chelios, the St. Louis Rams' Todd Lyght and Keith Lyle, the Hornets' freshly eliminated Glen Rice) and a parade of ring-kissing grotesques, male and female and in between, all ready with a schmooze or a squeeze.
At one point Rodman reiterates an old theme. "My life is different from the rest of the team—an X-rated type of deal," he says. "You know why people cheer me? People want to be individual and free. Life is all about connecting with freedom. Because this world's going to hell. So just write what you see, bro. Write what you see."
This particular strategy of public relations does not sit well with Lyght, who as Rodman's Mend and sometime workout partner marvels, as do the Bulls and people around the league, at the season Rodman is having—a season highlighted by a seventh straight rebounding title and on-court comportment that has Chicago coach Phil Jackson remarking at how "in control" Rodman has been. Lyght has already spent 10 minutes talking up Rodman's industry in the weight room and indispensability to the Bulls. But that isn't primarily what Rodman wants the world, through his amanuensis, to know.
Rodman and Lyght adjourn to the men's room. "Hope you're telling him about the work ethic," Lyght says.
Rodman scoffs. "I'm filling him up, man. Filling him up like a Hostess cupcake."
Rodman is less keen to address curricular matters: how he has become among the most effective passers in the Bulls' dauntingly complex triangle offense; how it's virtually impossible to fast-break against Chicago because of his knack for jamming opposing rebounders and forestalling their outlet passes; how, even after the Bulls are scored upon, he'll light-foot behind the end line and hurl length-of-the-court strikes to set up equalizing baskets; how, in a coda to his magnificent season, he has spent these playoffs sacrificing his 6'8", 220-pound frame to guard the taller Jayson Williams of the New Jersey Nets, the wider Anthony Mason of Charlotte and the taller and wider Antonio Davis of the Indiana Pacers, who lost 85-79 in Game 1 of the conference finals on Sunday—in short, how someone so flagrantly unfettered off the court can be so slavishly devoted to the subtlest of the basketball arts on it.
After some reflection Rodman concedes that, about this too, inquiring minds might want to know. "Tomorrow," he affirms, by which he means later today. "Hooters. We'll talk quietly."