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"I think he's been overwhelmed with success," says TV analyst Dick Versace, who was a Piston assistant coach when Rodman broke into the league as a 25-year-old rookie out of Southeastern Oklahoma State. "But nothing has ever affected his desire to win. He's never violated the sanctity of the game."
And yet when a team acquires the Worm—and his accompanying rebounds, defense, hustle and fire—it must ask itself: What else have we gotten? The San Antonio Spurs, who obtained Rodman from the Pistons in a trade on Oct. 1, are already asking themselves that, and more.
"I love pain," Rodman says, driving his big Chevy truck onto a San Antonio freeway. "It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something. I can't stand being in a game and not getting knocked down."
Rodman's defense mandates that he will take a beating. Crouching like a martial-arts expert, his arms wide, his eyes boring into the area just below his opponent's neck, Rodman gets on his foe like a shadow—relentlessly, tirelessly, maniacally; almost anything his opponent docs translates into a blow to the Worm's chest or head. Once, guard Darrell Walker, then of the Washington Bullets, grew so disgusted with Rodman's tenacious play that he tried to kick Rodman and then spat at him. The spit missed, but Rodman said he wished it had hit him so he could have rubbed it on his jersey and gotten "pumped up."
Pain, Rodman says, makes him feel whole, assures him that he is working as hard as he can and that for the moment at least, he is not, as USA Today columnist Bryan Burwell once put it, "tumbling back into that frightening old world." But that's basketball pain.
This pain is different.
"Man, my head's on fire!" he tells Fred Baldarrama, the hair designer here at Olga's Salon in the North Star Mall. Baldarrama smiles gently. He dabs soothing cream on the front of Rodman's scalp, where the gooey bleach is eating away at hair color and flesh. The Worm sits as still as he can amid the old ladies and the manicurists. Why is he doing this, becoming the tallest black man in the world with a flaming blond flattop? All the way here he talked about wanting to blend in, to be normal, to get, as he puts it, "solid." He ponders the question. "Why?" he says. "Because I don't give a damn."
But he does. He gives too much of a damn. "Dennis is a guy who has childlike qualities in a man's body," says Daly. "He wears all his emotions on his sleeve. And he's very easy to hurt."
He was so hurt during the 1992-93 preseason over Daly's departure, over the breakup of his two-year marriage to Annie and over his inability to spend more time with their daughter, Alexis, now five years old, that he locked himself in his Bloomfield Hills home and refused to answer the door or the phone or attend practices or games, and he went out only long past midnight to buy food or to work out at Gold's Gym. At one point he got a new phone number, but he didn't listen as the operator told him what the number was. If he didn't know his own number, he reasoned, how could anyone find him?
He wanted to be traded, he told the Pistons. He felt betrayed. By whom? By everyone. All his friends from the old days were gone. Daly, "the miracle worker," as Rodman describes him, the man who told him about life, was gone. G.M. Jack McCloskey, the man who drafted Rodman, was gone. Trainer Mike Abdenour and assistant coach Versace were gone. His teammate and pal John Salley was gone. His wife and his child were gone.