". . . Some people automatically believe I have a drinking problem. It's possible."
--Dennis Rodman, Walk on the Wild Side
Letting Dennis be Dennis (cont.): Our hero leaves the team to work on his "non-basketball-related personal problems" and turns up in Las Vegas.
Gee, who'd have thunk it?
Oh, anyone who was paying attention?
That lets out Jerry Buss. He wanted to believe Rodman was a showman, playing this for laughs, although if he had checked, he'd have understood that, three titles or no three titles, the Bulls had precious few laughs.
(One Laker official did ask his Chicago counterpart about Rodman. Replied the Bull official: "I can't begin to describe it."
The Bulls' guy told other staffers if the Lakers signed Rodman, he'd fall over, laughing. It's not really true there are no laughs, it's just that you have to wait a few years until another sucker undertakes the Dennis Rodman Experience.)
The Lakers are now clinging to the marital discord story, hoping as soon as Rodman resolves his problems with Carmen Electra, he'll be back, taking his 15 rebounds.
People always want to believe he has problems like theirs. When he lit out this time, people suspected petty pique at the arrival of high-priced Glen Rice with another power forward, J.R. Reid.
The truth is anything but petty. This "showman" is in a world of hurt, thrashing about for anything-- adulation, women, the dice tumbling on the felt--to keep him going. People are always thinking rationally on his behalf, but desperation has a logic all its own.
His life has been spiraling downward for years, marked, as he, himself, notes, by ever heavier drinking.
As a Detroit Piston in the early '90s, he didn't drink at all. Now . . .
"How do I do it?" he wrote in 1997. "How can a 35-year-old man drink his [butt] off, sleep very little and play in the NBA and still be the best conditioned guy out there? To give you the God's-honest truth, bro, I don't even know."
The answer is, not as well as he did in 1997. He's hardly the best-conditioned guy out there any more, or even as lucid as he was then.
He needs professional help but hates the thought, high-tailing it back down his drink-it-all, spend-it-all, gamble-it-all path to nowhere.
This isn't the usual meaningless sports story. The problem isn't patching Dennis up to keep him going a little longer, but reaching a terrified recluse, hiding in plain sight.
Not that the Lakers are well-suited to the task. Buss parties with Rodman. Last week, when Dennis took off for Vegas, Buss took off for Europe, turning his ward over to Jerry West, who had just come back from two days off himself, probably to escape the craziness.
Buss wanted Rodman because he needed a power forward, thought Dennis was his kind of guy and concluded he had nothing to lose, but he was wrong on at least one count.
His team has a lot to lose, and it won't be easy to disentangle it from Rodman.
This trip is a graphic demonstration of how dependent the Lakers have already become on him. With him, they're 9-0. Without him, they just went 1-3, beating only the dazed Timberwolves, who were playing their third game in three nights and still outrebounded them, 51-38.
In Cleveland, Shaquille O'Neal took 19 rebounds while everyone else got 18. In Philadelphia, the 76ers pounded them, 46-34, on the boards. Ever hear the saying, "No rebounds, no rings?" Also, no rebounds, no fastbreaks.
Unfortunately, their new savior is a genius at defending, rebounding, making the camera follow him and rebellion. Rodman isn't so far out of it he can't figure out he has reached the limit of what he can get away with--for now.
He has to play in 22 of the remaining 24 games to get his $3 million from Converse, knowing if he can hold it together for just a little while, Buss might sign him long term.
He'll play great as he always does in these situations. The players, who were upset when they learned he was in Vegas--no matter how badly TNT's Craig Sager mangled the story--will climb back on the bandwagon.
(This is standard: The Dodgers' Kevin Brown demolishes a toilet with a bat and Davey Johnson says the toilet had it coming. Of course, no one else poses the ongoing threat to harmony Rodman does, not even Albert Belle.)
If the Lakers forget everything they've been through and sign him long term, they might as well change their logo to a picture of Dennis, over Kurt Rambis' favorite saying these days:
"I'm not going to freak out over this."
As soon as Rodman feels safe, it'll start all over, the missed practices, pouts, ejections, etc.
Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas. Wherever you go, there you are.
FACES AND FIGURES