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"Hey, Luke," yells Rodman. "Need some Chapstick?"
When Rodman came into the league, the Piston coaching staff nicknamed him Worldclass because, as Versace says, "if he ran the 440, he'd be world class. The guy can run all day, on his toes, like a sprinter." Rodman still can run all day, and he still can attack the boards like nobody else in the game. He studies players' shooting tendencies, noting where the caroms of their shots are likely to go; he took early lessons from Detroit teammate Bill Laimbeer, learning "tenaciousness and how to tap the ball like a volleyball." But most of Rodman's rebounding success comes from simple want-to. "I work my ass off, that's all," he says. "People ask how you dig a 50-foot hole? You dig. How do I get offensive rebounds? I go get the damn basketball."
He prides himself on playing with his heart, reminding you that the best who have played the game—Jordan, Magic, Barkley, Bird—have played with their hearts too. The sad thing is that now people arc talking less about Rodman's heart and ferocity than about his flightiness and tonsorial statements. On the Saturday of the Spurs' first preseason game, the San Antonio Express-News highlights its Lifestyle section with a report on his "futuristic platinum blond flattop," which "could be on the cutting edge of hair fashion."
On the sports page there is only an ominous "Open Letter" to Rodman from veteran columnist Dan Cook. He rips Rodman for his tardiness and posturing, reminding him that when he left the Pistons, the Detroit Free Press carried a huge headline reading simply DE-WORMED. "Dennis, you didn't come here with a chip on your shoulder," Cook wrote. "You're carrying a telephone pole, daring anyone to give it a tap."
"This summer when he came to see me, he seemed suicidal," says Annie. "He came here looking like a transient. He was in old clothes, he'd lost about 15 pounds, he couldn't sleep. He had a designer design a $25,000 wedding dress for me, but he'd just been in Las Vegas with his girlfriend. Whatever Dennis Rodman can't have, he wants."
It hasn't occurred to anyone yet, but it will, that perhaps Dennis Rodman will not feel at ease until he has lost everything that sets him apart from what he once was. Maybe the Worm really doesn't want to have anything.
There are less than two minutes until tip-off of the opening preseason game at the Alamodome against the Orlando Magic. Rodman finally joins his teammates, who have been warming up for the last half hour. He has already missed the morning's shootaround, just one of the functions he has blown off here in San Antonio. Pacing now under the hoop, Rodman, with his gleaming tuft, looks like Greg Norman coming up the fairway. It is ironic and inexplicable that this difficult, seemingly antisocial man becomes the perfect teammate once a basketball game begins. "I really think," Thomas has said, "that Dennis is a kind of genius."
Rodman gets 11 rebounds in the game. He tries hard not to shoot at all, and near the end of the game he misses a simple layup. In the Magic locker room afterward, forward Larry Krystkowiak says of the Worm, "I can't figure him out. He has endless energy. Maybe if he'd show up for shootarounds, he'd be better on layups."
Two nights earlier Rodman had gone to see a late-night screening of Demolition Man, the science-fiction movie in which a villainous character, played by Wesley Snipes, who sports a hairdo similar to the Worm's, is frozen, then thawed in the year 2032. Yet the Worm identifies more with actor Dennis Leary's underground rebel than with Snipes's bad guy. It was the second straight night Rodman had gone to see the flick, but he found it just as troubling the second time.
"Could you live in a world like that?" he said on the way out, referring to the movie's portrayal of an antiseptic future. "No ups, no downs, no swearing, no sex, no conflict, no violence?" He seemed genuinely disturbed at the prospect. "I mean, freeze me," he said driving through the dark streets. "Who could live in a world like that?"