SALT LAKE CITY — No more Mrs. Nice Guy. Dennis Rodman says the gloves come off tonight, the long white ones he wears with the wedding gown or otherwise. This time he means it. No, really.
The same statement came before Game 2 of the NBA finals, just before he impressed Coach Phil Jackson to the point of playing 25 minutes. Then his Chicago Bull teammates predicted Rodman would come out of his closet, so to speak, for Game 3 because playing here was sure to get him riled, and that was followed by 24 minutes and three rebounds.
Now, trying to move Rodman directly into the line of fire, and hoping it will remind him what that emotional level is like, Jackson said Saturday he will have his starting power forward match up with Karl Malone for the first time in the series in Game 4 tonight against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center. Most people just have to crank the nob to get the clown to pop out of the box.
"I got to be Dennis Rodman," Dennis Rodman said. "I've got to get out there and be wild and crazy and do the nutty things that got me in this position right now. I'm tired of being the mild-mannered man on the floor. I just can't see taking the floor without being crazy.
"I have to be more in tune. I've got to go out there and shoot the ball, I've got to go out there and get an offensive board, get a defensive board. I've got to hit something, if it has to be, I don't know, the mascot or somebody. I've got to do something to get my act together.
"I've got to get more involved. I have to. If I don't, we're not going to win the series."
And if he does?
"If I get my act together," Rodman said, "we're going to win this series. We're going to win this series without a doubt."
There is some evidence to suggest the Bulls might win either way. With an inconsistent offense the greater concern, they barely won the opener even though Rodman got 13 rebounds, hardly spectacular but still as many or more than he had in 13 of the 14 previous playoff games. Then, they blew out the Jazz in Game 2 while Rodman, again assigned to Jazz center Greg Ostertag on defense, grabbed only seven rebounds.
Still, there's no doubt the idea of putting a bigger body, center Luc Longley, on Malone, allowing Rodman to concentrate on the boards, has gone sour. Longley did a good job in his role, especially the first two games in Chicago before foul trouble limited him to 18 minutes Friday as the Jazz cut its series deficit to 2-1, but Rodman did not.
He didn't rebound, averaging only 7.3 in 27.3 minutes this series.
He didn't get any technical fouls, even as Bull assistant coach Tex Winter and Jazz center Greg Ostertag did, suggesting something was really wrong.
And, he didn't play, most recently getting benched with 6:45 to play in the third quarter of Game 3 and never returning.
"I need to go rent a bike and ride in the hills and try to find God or somebody," Rodman said. "Try to find somebody that's going to get me, try to find Dennis Rodman somewhere in the state of Utah. If anybody sees Dennis Rodman in Crowbar [a Chicago club], tell him to bring his [butt] to Utah."
Tell him, maybe, to get a technical, just to get riled up.
"I don't like to think that way," Bull guard Steve Kerr said. "Maybe he does [need to]. Whatever, he needs to be intense. If he's not playing with that intensity, then he's not an effective player for us. And if being intense means getting a technical, then that's fine. Just one, though."
The exact origin of the Stepford Rodman is inconclusive. Theories abound, though.
* He's a new man. "I've had a call from God," Rodman said. "Be humble and good to all men." OK, next theory.
* He's at least trying to look like a new man. These are the final games before his contract expires and Rodman says he'd like to stay a Bull, even while the Bulls are sending out signals that Mrs. O'Leary's cow would be more welcome back in Chicago come fall. Maybe this is Rodman's way of showing he can tone down the act?
"I'm going to have to ask him that," Jackson said. "That's a good question. I don't know why he'd do that all of the sudden after he's shown us his true character for 195 days. But that might be it. It might be a decent theory."
Said Rodman: "I don't know. Everyone says that I'm nuts, so I'm just trying to show everybody that I am a good guy in some ways."
But not because of impending free agency.
"Nah, I don't think about that," he said. "If I come back, great. If I don't, I just live the life of the rich and famous."
* He's bored. At the very least, he isn't looking very motivated. "His enthusiasm wasn't quite the same as we normally see with Dennis," Michael Jordan said of Rodman in Game 3.
"I think it's just because I'm not involved," Rodman said. "I'm not active enough. I'm not consistent enough to be in the flow of the game. I'm guarding centers and centers are not involved in the game. It's pretty much keeping me stagnant. I need to be more involved, more in tune. I've got to play the more aggressive players on the floor."
"I've got to be hit, I've got to be touched, I've got to do this, I've got to do that," Rodman said. "[Jackson] said, 'You've got to play Karl, you've got to get more involved, you've got to have some contact.'
"No matter what, if I foul out, if I get technicals, I've got to do those things to spark me up, get this team going."
Consider yourself warned.