Rodman's skull is still burning, as the toxic goop has turned his hair from black to a sickly orange. He pulls up his shirttail and uses it to fan his scalp, thereby revealing the gold ring that pierces his navel like a tiny door knocker. He got the ring this summer because his ex-wife has one and because he still loves her, even though their split has been painful. He speaks wistfully now about remarrying Annie, though he has not asked her how she feels about the matter.
And how does she feel about it? "I will never marry Dennis," Annie says. "I will not go through that suffering again."
Dennis, though, pines for her still. "I get everything she gets," he says. Indeed, Annie bleached her hair blond; hence the Worm is doing his. The tattoos, of which he now has nine, started when fie copied the shark that was needled onto Annie's back. He's going to get a new tattoo soon—an American Indian warrior's band around his biceps—but his pride and joy is the portrait of Alexis that adorns the inside of his left forearm.
Rodman's body art—including the phrases he has shaved into his scalp—could be interpreted as a form of self-mutilation, a quasi-spiritual mortification of the Mesh, a way to show the world that he is doing penance for his sins, like a pilgrim, publicly. But in truth he simply has a flamboyant streak, a part of him that revels in being noticed and in showing that he is different from the crowd. And yet another part of him detests it. "He likes attention, and he doesn't like it," says Daly. "His whole life is a dichotomy."
Annie, a former model who fell for Rodman seven years ago because of his "sensitivity, his innocence and his vulnerability," grows angry when she sees the spectacle Rodman has made of their private world. "He has a tattoo of his child on his forearm," she says, voice cracking, "but he sent her nothing for Christmas. He didn't call on her birthday. He missed her first day of kindergarten. When she had chicken pox this summer, it took us three days just to find him. Sure, he lost $35,000 in Las Vegas on purpose, but why didn't he just set up a trust fund for Alexis instead? Have you seen the tattoo he has that says LINDA, one of his girlfriends? Talk about a knife in my heart."
It is not going too far to call Rodman a tormented soul, and the roots of that torment can be unearthed in his past. Raised in a tough part of Dallas in a family with an absent father and a mother who doted on Rodman's two younger sisters, both of whom were far better basketball players than he was, Rodman never felt particularly good about himself. As a kid he had a vague dream of someday playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but he did nothing to act on making that dream come true. In high school he drifted, and he succumbed to the lure of the streets. Only 5'9" after graduation, with no marketable skills, he saw his life slipping away from him. Then, two years later, he abruptly grew 11 inches. While working that janitorial job at the airport, he stole some watches, got arrested (the charges were dropped because he returned all the watches) and finally realized that if he didn't get his act together, he was doomed to a life in what he refers to as "the netherworld." When he went off to Southeastern Oklahoma State, at age 22, following a year at Cooke County College, in Gainesville, Texas, he vowed, "I will never come back to Dallas until I have made something of myself."
He was a three-time NAIA All-America, averaging 24.4 points and 17.8 rebounds per game as a senior, and the Pistons drafted him in the second round—as a project. He was a primitive basketball marvel, people said, something like an idiot savant, the Rainman of the NBA. "Who are you?" a reporter asked early in Rodman's career. "I'm nobody straight out of nowhere," Rodman answered.
Small wonder, then, that he would one day be overwhelmed by his bounty. Certainly he had worked and prayed for this good fortune to occur, but did he deserve it? Guilt, he discovered, follows success as surely as it follows failure.
And so after last season he vanished from his world and reappeared at that holiest of American shrines, Las Vegas, to purge himself and to make amends. "I was getting rid of everything that had meaning in my life and starting over," he says of his ritualistic gaming losses. He had done things like that before on a lesser scale, just given things away. He would do it, he says, because he never wanted to forget where he came from and because the unfairness of the world genuinely troubled him. In Detroit he would sometimes drive through the streets of the toughest parts of town, giving out money to homeless people, sometimes taking a vagrant home with him, cleaning the man up, feeding him and sending him off in good spirits. Once, he struck up a conversation with a homeless man, then simply emptied his pockets to the poor soul, giving him close to a thousand dollars. "So many people need so much," Rodman explains. "I don't need possessions."
One reason the Spurs took the plunge with Rodman is that coach John Lucas feels he can relate well to the Worm and thereby keep him happy and productive. A cheery and emotional former cocaine abuser who now helps others beat their own drug addictions, Lucas is a players' coach who is willing to tolerate eccentricities and frailties in his charges.