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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum
Richard Hoffer
March 08, 1999
With the arrival of the flamboyant Dennis Rodman, Lakers fans expecting a sideshow were treated to something else: a rousing revival of Showtime
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March 08, 1999

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

With the arrival of the flamboyant Dennis Rodman, Lakers fans expecting a sideshow were treated to something else: a rousing revival of Showtime

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That game was a reminder that contrary to his public persona as a sad doofus, Rodman is a sort of basketball genius. As much as he cultivates and refines his singularity, he is the ultimate team player, doing everybody else's dirty work. Of course, contradiction is basically his reason to live. While everybody was anticipating the ways in which Rodman would disrupt this young team, he spent his first practice learning the system by helping the rookies with their plays. "Don't get me wrong," said Rambis. "Our play-book doesn't give you instructions on performing a lobotomy. It's only basketball. But still...." He was a little surprised.

And what bigger surprise was there than Rodman's electrifying performance in his first game back, after an eight-month layoff that was highlighted, physical conditioning-wise, by his Las Vegas marriage to Hyperion Bay babe Carmen Electra? Friday's victims were the winless Clippers, but Sunday afternoon against the Lineup of Legends Rockets, Rodman was just as amped up. Coming off the bench again, he grabbed 10 rebounds against Houston, which had Charles Barkley back in uniform. Shaq again: "This is a pretty fun team to play on right now."

And it's fun to watch. The fans loved Rodman even more than Shaq did, keening for his entrance, roaring at every reckless rebound, cheering for him to shoot, on their feet for each of his loose-ball scrambles. It's been a while since crowds at the Forum were excited enough to do something like wear socks with button eyes on their hands, holding them aloft in homage to the Worm.

All this came to pass without Rodman's doing anything more seditious than arrive 15 minutes late for a Saturday practice. The Lakers didn't see or hear much from him except when he was playing basketball. Attended by two bodyguards (the same ex-cops he employed in Chicago), he dressed in a room apart from the team. Rodman may become even more invisible to his fellow Lakers: He asked for an exercise bike he can ride during the game, somewhere off the court, to keep himself energized until he enters the fray.

Interestingly, his teammates didn't seem to mind this double standard one bit. They seemed excited by the prospect of having such an exotic in their midst. "It's going to be bananas," said 20-year-old swingman Kobe Bryant, happily. "Dresses! Trips to Vegas!"

Veteran point guard Derek Harper was also looking forward to living the Rodman experience. "Face it," Harper said, "a lot of people wish they had the cojones to do and say what he does."

Even team leader Shaq, a military kid whose idea of discipline might differ from Rodman's on key points, was prepared for the Worm's act. Perhaps even admiring of it. "What he does," says O'Neal, himself a multimedia impresario, "is what I call home-boy marketing. He is very good at getting free telecommunications from you guys." Shaq's own purple fedora was off to Rodman.

By the way, when it comes to hats, there is a new sheriff in town. Rodman's skimmers, of which there appear to be many, seem to be out of the Dr. Seuss catalog. And one more thing while we're updating Rodman: No Laker dare play catch-up with him when it comes to nose rings. Rodman has enough iron in his face that in a medical emergency, the docs will have to go at him with a bolt cutter.

For now the Lakers are prepared to accept him as an act whose entertainment value is nice but wholly beside the point. Rodman rebounds, gets loose balls—"Rookies trying to make the team don't dive for loose balls these days," says Lakers forward Robert Horry—and dresses funny. Of course, that's what his supporters have been saying all along: that he's not a dangerous personality at all but just someone who discovered how much fun it is to irritate all of us decent folk.

"He's not insane," says Barkley, "he's just playing with every body. Like crying at his press conference. Everybody fell for it! This guy cries on request, I'm telling you. I've seen him do it on Oprah. He plays everybody like fiddles, which is almost too bad, because it keeps him from getting the credit he deserves."

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