Down in San Antonio, the Spurs cringed whenever Dennis Rodman removed his shoes or a piece of clothing during a game. In Chicago, the Bulls cheer.
Rodman had a clause inserted in his contract, which requires him to strip off his jersey and hurl it into the stands to some lucky fan. The catch is, it's done only if the Bulls win. Therefore, the Bulls actually enjoy it when Rodman creates this kind of stir. They'd like to see more of it, in fact.
As for negative antics, there haven't been many. The Bulls did hold their breath when Rodman was booted from the Sonics game two weeks ago and drew a $5,000 league-issued fine for not leaving the floor in a timely manner. He was found guilty of tossing expletives, as well as his jersey, on the way off the floor.
"We knew we had to put up with Dennis' antics at some time," Michael Jordan said. "The ejection was no problem, and I'm sure it won't happen again."
Who knows for sure? Rodman takes pride in being a nonconformist, so he won't change. But for the sake of team and future contract, he has tamed himself and kept his behavior within the rules, instead of beyond them.
"Dennis has been a model citizen," coach Phil Jackson said. "Well, maybe not a model citizen."
Jackson hasn't had a reason to suspend Rodman or penalize him the way the Spurs frequently did last season, when he drove himself right out of town. The rap sheet on Rodman reads clean. He and David Stern may have to cancel this year's annual chat.
"I'm the same Dennis Rodman," he said. "It's just that people have opened their eyes and accepted Dennis Rodman more. People in Chicago are more open-minded, and San Antonio was a small-market town. People in Chicago will accept Dennis Rodman for who he is."
Well, not quite. Rodman was told by the Bulls that they'd talk contract with him this summer, when he becomes a free agent, and Rodman wouldn't do himself much good by becoming a disruption. In addition, with the Bulls (34-3) on a record win pace, Rodman has played the good soldier in order to maintain chemistry. One reason is Rodman respects Jordan and Scottie Pippen, even if he hardly communicates with them. Two, Rodman has developed a fondness for Jackson, a counterculture man himself.
"I understand him some," Jackson said. "He's got a chip on his shoulder about the referees and how he's been treated by the NBA and by the system. But he comes in and plays hard every night, dives on loose balls and hustles."
Rodman hasn't been fitted for a halo. He and Jackson don't agree on everything. He presses Jackson for more playing time because he wants to become the first player to win rebounding titles with three franchises. Rodman averages 33 minutes, down from 38 last season, and has missed 12 games because of injury.
The rebounds continue to come, at a rate of 14.4 a game. The bad antics have been much less than anticipated. "It hasn't happened yet," Jackson said, "but we're not at the halfway point. Dennis is a product of his reputation ... Whether we admit it or not, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop."