Back in the late 1980s, long before Dennis Rodman became a sideshow freak, a friend of mine ran into the then unheralded and unpierced Pistons forward at a bar. Rodman invited him to pull up a stool, and for the next couple of hours the two sat there, watching a baseball game. At the end of the night, my friend was left with the distinct impression that Dennis was just another regular guy.
Clearly, by most standards, my friend could not have been more wrong. Still, there was an underlying truth in his perception. Sure, in what was an increasingly desperate grasp for attention, Rodman spent the better part of a decade living a life that was one-third Jackass and two-thirds Penthouse Forum fantasy. But it all had a scripted feel to it. The dresses, the Brahman nose hoops, the Crayola hair colors, the serial copulating, the not-so-electrifying encounters with Carmen Electra—it all played out like just another Vince McMahon potboiler. A p.r. genius? Yes. A true character? Far from it.
In sports journalism, where everyone takes it one game at a time and giving only 109% would be a serious shortfall, there are few things more enjoyable than an audience with Wizards forward Charles Oakley. While Rodman was purposefully weird, Oakley is the opposite—a big jug of moonshine whiskey that doesn't always go down smooth, but damn if it isn't pure. Oakley is gruff, he is grouchy, he gets into scuffles with guys over gambling debts.
The team sucks? Oakley will say so. Somebody's soft? He'll tell you who. What's more, he does so with a crazy mix of metaphors and cockeyed aphorisms that can make him sound like a 6'9", 245-pound version of Dennis Miller on 'shrooms. Oak's take on the post-Jordan Bulls? "They had a dynasty, now they have a coffee shop." Playing on a losing team? "I'll just keep eating my bread, sipping my soup and serving my time. But the chicken is going to lay some more eggs some day." And of course, the classic, "We're like Jekyll and Hyde, like Jack and Jill. You know, they all went up the hill."
Of course they did, Oak, of course they did.