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May 15, 1997|MIKE PENNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: ESPN's "Up Close Primetime"

Airs: Friday, 4:30 p.m. PDT

Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman--they sound like the answer to a pop culture trivia quiz: "Name the two most dissimilar personalities currently playing in the NBA."

Malone hunts, fishes, listens to country music, proudly calls himself "a black redneck" and is described by "Up Close" host Roy Firestone as "the most conservative black man I have met in sports."

Rodman, you know about, but to underscore the point, Mr./Ms. Bad as I Wanna Be shows up for his interview with Firestone dressed as the Glow Worm--gold glitter on his face and neck, gold eye shadow, false eyelashes, gold nail polish, gold hair, gold jacket.

The juxtaposition wasn't intentional. Firestone originally went to Chicago in search of Michael Jordan, but Jordan wasn't talking, so Rodman was asked to pinch-hit. Was there any question the league's leading publicity hound would accept? Isn't the name of Firestone's program "Primetime"?

Future NBA historians will have a good time with this piece of videotape: Yes, it's true--these two individuals played the same position in the same league in the same era and were icons to many of the same fans.

Viewed in the context of shock-me, shock-you 1997, Malone seems almost a throwback. He is the most popular man in Utah, a state with a population that is 92% white, and that relationship has drawn criticism from some in the black community, who have charged Malone with selling out as an "Uncle Tom."

Rodman, of course, has different barbs to deflect--he has been called everything but an "Uncle Tom." Firestone gathers the wide scope of public opinion on Rodman--Bob Costas dismisses him as a joke, Gene Siskel calls him an "artist"--and he gets Rodman to admit he will "probably" be cut loose by the Bulls after this season.

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