I see him leaping into trees to save lost cats. I see him leaping onto skyscrapers to pick flowers from the penthouse. I look in the sky and it is not a bird, it is not Bird, it is . . . Dennis Rodman.
“How do you account for this?” I ask the man who is suddenly grabbing every rim shot, every bouncer, every ricochet. “How have you become such a rebounding sensation?”
“It’s just easy for me,” he says, shrugging. “I see the ball coming off the rim, I head for it, and the next thing I know it’s in my hands.’
It’s in his hands, no matter whose hands it was headed for. Did you see him Friday night against Cleveland? Here comes the ball, going for somebody el– whoops, Dennis grabbed it. Here comes the bounce, high off the glas- whoops, Dennis grabbed it. Over people. Behind people. Through people. It is like watching the Roadrunner against the Coyote. You look, and there he is. You look, and there he is again.
“Is there a theory to this rebounding?” I ask him. “Some secret you’ve read on a gym wall?”
“Just timing and leaping,” he says. “I follow the ball from the moment it hits the rim, then I head where it’s gonna land.”
And he gets there. And he grabs it. Or taps it, taps it then grabs it. Watching Rodman rebound is like watching thievery. Like watching a vacuum cleaner turned upside down. Soon he will be leaping so high, he can grab the ball, and scratch his opponent’s head.
“Yo, Manute,” he will say, “up here.”
“What the . . . ?” Manute will say.
“Head and Shoulders, baby. Try some.”
The sky’s the limit Dennis Rodman. I see big things here. After all, this is a man who redefines the phrase “late bloomer.” A guy who grew seven inches after he left high school. A guy who didn’t play the game until he got to college. As an NBA rookie, he was 25 years old. I think his second teeth are just coming in.
“Are you surprised by your rebounding success?” I ask him.
“Every time I get one,” he says. “I’m jumping against these guys who are 260 pounds, maybe two or three different people, and boom, the ball’s in my hands.”
And in his hands again. Forget the fist-waving. Forget the hot-dogging. Maybe rebounding is his true calling, discovered late in life, the way Gauguin discovered painting. In his first season, Rodman averaged four rebounds a game. In his second season, he averaged almost nine. And lately he has been out of control. He had 16 rebounds against New Jersey. Another 16 against Golden State. He had 17 against Cleveland. And remember, this is a guy who comes off the bench. He’s lucky to get 30 minutes a game.
What is the limit? There is no limit. Soon they will put three men on him, and he will burst like a girl from a cake and grab the rebound. They will box him, two and three rear ends digging into his side — and he will slither out and grab the rebound. Gotcha. Gotcha. He seems to have a special relationship with the basketball, like the one Timmy had with Lassie; somehow, they just find each other.
I see big things. I see a game in which he grabs every rebound. I see a game in which he never touches the ground. I see a new line of shoes. The Rodman Rebounders. Put them on, and you can clean your roof gutter.
I see video. I see books. I see a singles bar bearing his name, exclusively for people who have just broken up with their spouses. Rodman’s On The Rebound, they will call it. I see these things.
He’s better than Bird-like “How good do you think you can get with this?” I ask him.
“I think,” he says, scratching his chin, “if I really work at it, I could be one of the top three rebounders in the league.”
The top three? Did you hear that? And he is only 6-feet-8. A small forward, really. But why not? Larry Bird always says that rebounding is timing. Rodman has timing. Larry Bird says that rebounding is position. Rodman has position.
And Larry Bird can’t jump.
Big things? I see big things. I see him entering his apartment — through the window. I see him soaring for a rebound and pulling out a dust rag to wipe the top of the glass.
“I love to rebound,” he says. “I love to play defense. That’s what I want to be known as — the best defensive player and rebounder. Scoring is OK, but we got a lot of guys who can score.”
They don’t have a lot of guys who can do this — go over, under, behind, around, go up, up, up, and finish with the ball.
Akeem, look out. Sikma, look out. Patrick, look out. He is all hands and legs, a worm with a jet pack. Need a window cleaned? Need your top shelves rearranged? Need someone to catch that briefcase you just flung out the 14th-story window?
Here is your guy. Dennis The Rebounding Menace. His philosophy is simple: What goes up must come down . . .
. . . in his hands.
Mitch Albom’s sports talk show, “The Sunday Sports Albom,” airs tonight, 9-11, on WLLZ-FM (98.7). Guests include Joe Kocur, Jimmy Devellano and Red Wings beat writers. CUTLINE