by | Oct 3, 1993 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Dennis Rodman was on the phone in a funeral parlor telling his agent it was OK to trade him. This is all you need to know about his confused world.

He had been in San Diego earlier, with a girlfriend, but now he was in Sacramento, with Annie, his ex-wife, or estranged wife, no one is really sure. Annie’s mother had died, and Annie had reached out for Dennis, even though most of the time she is screaming for his head on a stick. And Dennis came to Annie, never mind that she is suing him for both alimony and palimony, or something like that (even in California, she is making legal history). And along with this miserable/loving couple was their young daughter, Alexis, whom Dennis yearns to see so desperately he had her face tattooed on his arm. And yet, when he had a chance to be traded to Sacramento and be near her all the time, he nixed the deal.

Now he was telling his agent, from the funeral parlor office telephone, that it was OK to go from the Pistons to the Spurs, from Canadian border to Mexican border. This, after he had said yes to the deal the day before, then awoke the next morning and said, “Can we get more money?” This, from a guy who says, “I don’t need money.” This, from a guy who spent much of the summer in Las Vegas, throwing wads of money away.

You can listen to Dennis Rodman’s whole sad mess — and remember this is only the last few months, never mind the 32 years that came before it — and you can say, “Good riddance, I’m glad we’re rid of that head case.”

Or you can look a little deeper.

And see a man ruined by success. Miscast as an adult

Like Michael Jackson, the pop singer, Dennis Rodman is living a child’s life in an adult body with a tycoon’s money. His lakefront home in Birmingham is a most desirable real estate investment — yet is decorated with big screen TVs, a drum set and bean bag chairs.

He earns enough to sleep in silk suits, but wears baseball caps and flannel shirts.

He is 32, a successful black man, yet most of his friends are young white teenagers.

The happiest I ever saw him was when he was playing drums, the music blasting, his eyes wide at the noise he was making. Or when he spoke about his excavation company. “I could stay all day on that tractor!” he gushed.
“I can’t wait to get back!” He said this the day before the Pistons’ second title.

Dennis Rodman is a guy who should never have been this successful. Should never have made this much money, or become this famous. It has not been good for him. It has thrown him off his axis. He is a kind-hearted but confused soul who never really had a father, seems only marginally connected to his mother and sisters, and moved in with a white family in Oklahoma after their 11-year-old son invited him home for dinner one day. Dennis was 20 at the time.

Had he never made it to the NBA, he might have wandered from place to place, taking odd jobs, maybe finding a woman who loved him for who he was, a guy looking for direction. That is a simple life. It would have been better than the alternative.

The alternative was a little trick that fate played on him. Gave him this incredible body, unaccountable leaping ability, and a fearless drive in the heat of battle. Fate also made him 6 feet 8, and the NBA found him, turned him into a star, handed him ridiculous paychecks.

He has been lost ever since. Victim of success

We live in a country where “making it” is the primary goal. But are there cases where making it is more a curse than a blessing? Dennis Rodman is surrounded by people telling him yes, or by teenagers who don’t know any better. There are always fans to slap his back, always reporters assuring him that, for whatever reason, he is interesting.

What happens when the basketball ends and the money runs out? He has gotten used to perks of the famous life, and will crave them when they’re gone. But he was never mature enough to understand them, they have ruled him, spun him around. He is their victim now.

The day Rodman was drafted, the Pistons flew him and John Salley — their No. 1 pick — into Detroit. Salley was already slick, nice clothes, talking about a car deal. Dennis came in tennis shoes and a T-shirt. They all went out to dinner, Chuck Daly, his staff, the two players. And all night, Rodman, who was terribly shy, kept coughing and wheezing. Salley said: “You better not room me with this guy. I don’t wanna get sick.”

As it turned out, Rodman had asthma and didn’t even know it.

Or maybe he was choking on his new life.

He still is. He did a lot of crazy things, but he was never a bad person, only a dizzy one. In a better world, his jersey would hang from the rafters as one of the greatest players to ever grace the Pistons franchise. Instead he goes to far left corner of Texas.

There is no joy in saying good riddance. Only good-bye, good luck, and a hope that he breathes easier one day.


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