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NBA FINALS: Chicago Bulls vs. Seattle SuperSonics

Getting Into the Act : Rodman's Conduct Remains Questionable, but Bulls Now Favor Keeping Him Around

June 11, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Dennis, Dennis, Dennis, Dennis, Dennis. Where can we go to get away from this Dennis?

Michael Jordan has one of his incredible games, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of winning their fourth title in the '90s and posting the best playoff record to go with their best regular-season record but all anyone wants to know about is . . .

Dennis.

Dennis Rodman has an ordinary Game 3--five points, 10 rebounds--and clowns around in garbage time, mocking the whipped Seattle SuperSonics until one, old faithful Frank Brickowski, blows and gets ejected again. The camera, of course, is drawn to that which is different and that's Dennis.

It's something else at which Rodman is a genius. One needn't be lucid to attraction attention, or clever, one needs only stand out. Once again, dozens of cameras focus on him and hundreds of pens poise to take down his every outrageous, wandering and contradictory thought.

Was it a psych job? Predictably, Rodman thinks do.

"Don't mess with the master," he announces.

Was it bad sportsmanship? Bad for basketball? For America? Predictably, Seattle Coach George Karl thinks so.

"The NBA is kinda like a joke," he says. "This guy has taken a style and everybody in the world is talking about it and laughing about it. And it's not good for basketball."

Is Rodman getting near the edge again? Predictably, Jordan thinks so.

"If he's degrading the game of basketball, then I'm not all for it," Jordan says. "If it takes away from our success, I'm not for it at all. . . .

"I thought he was trying to impress Cindy Crawford, really."

(Yes, supermodel Crawford is here to shoot a video with Dennis.)

Would you want this guy on your team? In a surprise, Brickowski says he'd be all for it.

"Yes," Brickowski says. "Period.

"Dennis knows how to win basketball games. His antics are his antics. I mean, he can work on his makeup at the foul line for all I care. He rebounds and competes and goes after people. You gotta like that."

The Bulls do. Three weeks ago, insiders said owner Jerry Reinsdorf wouldn't offer the 35-year-old free agent rebounder/provocateur anything more than a one-year contract. Since, Rodman has played wonderfully, the team has hurtled through the playoffs and Coach Phil Jackson has come out for offering him a two-year deal. Monday, even Jordan joined the chorus.

"Well," Jordan said, "I'm a firm believer, if you have a successful team, a championship team, I don't like to see it broken up. . . . Yeah, I'm in favor of them signing him and keeping everybody around."

Actually, Mike had to change his position a little on this issue. Like 180 degrees.

The story of how Rodman has finally been (almost) accepted by the Bulls is the story of their wildest and most glorious season and it's ongoing.

*

In the beginning, Jordan's attitude toward acquiring Rodman was simple: no way.

Rodman was a famous outlaw, showoff, suspected fruitcake, demonstrably unreliable and worse: He'd been a leading member of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons who terrorized the young Bulls in the '80s and exited so ungraciously in the '90s, when Rodman shoved Scottie Pippen into the basket support in Game 4 of a Bull sweep and Isiah Thomas led the team out of the arena before the game ended.

Pippen hated Rodman even more than Jordan did. When management asked what they thought of trading for their former nemesis, Jordan says they spent "a couple days" talking about it.

"Quite naturally, I was very skeptical about it from Day 1," Jordan says. "Here's a guy who used to cut our chins and knock us all over the place and now we gotta treat him as a teammate.

"I felt that was, to some degree, a slap in the face. And we had to grit our teeth, Scottie and myself. And we did. . . . We conferred with Phil about it because Phil, overall, he had to deal with it. And he thought he could accept the challenge and do a good job at it so we went on Phil's faith. And it worked out.

"I think I became more forgiving and understanding as the season went along. And Scottie's the same way. Scottie was even more hardened than I am because of the stitches that he received. . . .

"Our hatred and our animosity lessened some. I can't say we have totally forgotten about all that but I think we've learned how to put things aside and focus on what a team is all about and that's one central goal. That was tough sometimes."

It was especially tough the night of March 16, when Rodman head-butted a referee in a game at New Jersey and got himself suspended.

Jordan, worried that Rodman was leaving the reservation once again, blew up, publicly proclaiming this unacceptable behavior.

"I felt that he could go either way at that time," Jordan says. "Someone had to reach him and bring him back."

That was Jackson. Jordan sensed that Rodman felt bad about it when Dennis called him in the hotel on a trip to Philadelphia and asked for a cigar. Rodman didn't say he was sorry but since he and Jordan never talked off the court, Mike suspected Dennis was trying to tell him something.

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