Well folks, the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee finally got it right this time. This past Friday, 10 inductees were enshirened in the Basketball Hall of Fame for the Class of 2011, and among those was none other than our favorite “Worm”, Dennis Rodman.
Rodman, who had long been considered a borderline candidate due to his on-court histrionics, and off-the-court antics, can now officially close the door on one of the most entertaining, polarizing, and productive careers in NBA history.
Rodman spent a large portion of his career alienating himself from fellow teammates, fellow players, and the media. However, hear me on this: Dennis Rodman deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame, and anything short of an induction would have been an absolute travesty.
First, lets start with the resume:
- 5-time NBA Champion (89, 90, 96, 97, 98)
- 2-time Defensive Player of the Year (90, 91)
- 7-time Rebounding Champion (92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98)
- 6-time Offensive Rebounding Leader (91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97)
- 7-time NBA All-Defensive 1st team (89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 95, 96)
- 8-time NBA All-Defensive Team (89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96)
- 2-time All-NBA 3rd Team (92, 95)
- 2-time All-Star (90, 92)
- FG% Leader in 1989
- League leader in Minutes played (1992)
- NBA Record for Most Consecutive Years Winning the Rebounding Title (7)
- NBA Record for most Offensive Rebounds in a NBA Finals Game (11)
So let me try and sum this up as best as I can:
1.) Not only was Rodman the best rebounder of his generation, but he was the best rebounder to ever play the game.
You heard me correctly. No one dominated the glass like the Worm. Seven times he averaged at least 15 rebounds per game, and twice, an astonishing 18+ rebounds per game, while winning 7 consecutive rebounding titles, an NBA record.
I know what you are thinking – A better rebounder than Wilt who averaged a NBA record 27.2 rebounds/game in 1961? A better rebounder than Russell who was the master of the defensive boards? A better rebounder than Moses Malone, who ESPN writing legend Bill Simmons describes as an ‘inmate who went after rebounds as if his one next would mean parole’?
Yes, better than all of them. Case in point:
For those of you who are unfamiliar with 1960’s NBA, take some time to watch the film, read the history, and study the stats– the game was very different back then. The NBA was extremely fast paced, with each team having more possessions, taking quicker shots, and missing a higher percentage of attempts than the modern day game. In sum, there were far more rebounds to be had.
To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain averaged an NBA record 27.2 rebounds per game in 1961 when the average game consisted of 73.2 total rebounds. Dennis Rodman averaged a career high 18.7 rebounds in 1992 when the average game consisted of only 43.6 totals rebounds. Look, I know that normalizing stats can be a tricky exercise, but there is no doubt in my mind that had 1992 Rodman played in 1961, he would have broken the NBA single season rebounding record. Wilt Chamberlain had nearly 30 more rebounding opportunities per game than Dennis Rodman did, yet only averaged 8.5 more rebounds. Given that Rodman pulled down 43% of all rebounds per game in 1992, I think that it is fair to say had Rodman played in 1961, based on normalized statistics adjusting for pace, he would have averaged approximately 31.4 rebounds per game, or more 4 rebounds per game than Chamberlain’s NBA record. Moreover, he would have done so against a cast of big men that were an average of 6’7 in height, as opposed to the 7’0 players that he faced in 1992. It’s no coincidence that the NBA’s first 33 single season rebounding records happened before 1972 when the game offered nearly double the rebounds as the modern day. Its called statistical inflation. Rodman’s 1992 average of 18.7 comes in right at #34.
|Wilt (1961)||Rodman (1992)||B. Russell (1964)||M. Malone (1979)|
|Reb/Game (Career High)||27.2||18.7||24.7||17.6|
|Pace (Average Rebounds In An NBA Game)||73.2||43.6||65.9||45.2|
|Reb/Game Adjusted to 1961 Pace||27.2||31.4||27.4||28.5|
Rodman simply had an uncanny ability of knowing where the ball was going, where it would carom, and how to get there before his opponent did. He was also blessed with the unique gift of being light on his feet: Rodman could jump, come back down, and then restart his jump faster than anyone else in NBA history. He didn’t need to jump the highest, because he could jump the fastest, and always knew where the ball would bounce.
2.) Not only was Rodman the best defensive power forward of his generation, but he was arguably the best defensive player overall.
7 times, Rodman was first team All-Defense, and twice, the Defensive Player of the year. He was also one of the few players in NBA history who could guard any position on the floor effectively: guard, forward, or center. Rodman played bigger, stronger, and quicker than his 6’8, 235 pound frame, relying on quick lateral speed, tremendous lower body strength and a high basketball IQ. He was not a particularly adept shot blocker, but compensated by playing great low-post position defense, and never allowed his opponents to get comfortable in the block. Rodman was also never afraid the play the role of enforcer, giving hard fouls when necessary, and making an opponent think twice before driving into the lane. He also had a knack for getting under his opponents skin and oftentimes served as a major irritant – just ask Frank Brickowski.
3.) Most importantly though, Dennis Rodman was a winner, and impacted the game by doing the little things that his team needed to win.
He was the ultimate Mr. Intangible, sacrificing his body at every juncture. He was the guy who would take a charge when his team needed a momentum swing. He was the guy who would make a defensive stop when his team needed a stand. He was the guy who could get that timely rebound to help fuel a struggling offense – all with a flair for the dramatic.
During the Piston’s championship runs in 1989 and 1990, it was Rodman, not Dumars, who guarded Michael Jordan during critical late game situations. During the 1996 NBA Finals, it was Rodman who single handedly willed the Bulls to a Game 2 win with an NBA record 11 offensive rebounds and 20 overall. He then followed that performance up with another 11 offensive rebound performance (19 overall) during a close-out Game 6, making his case for NBA Finals MVP. During the 1997 NBA Finals, it was Rodman who once again left his mark by holding Karl Malone, the League’s MVP (absolute travesty) to 44% FG shooting, nearly 11 percentage points below his average.
Phil Jackson called Rodman the “greatest athlete that I ever coached”, adding about his stamina, “He could probably play the 48th minute stronger than the first minute”.
Side Note: Evidently, Madonna had that same exact quote but for very different reasons.
Lastly, the Worm was an entertainer, the greatest sports self-promoter since Muhammad Ali. The multi-colored hair, the incessant partying, the wedding dresses, the pro-wrestling, were all harmless antics that made the game fun for us fans. He was the only NBA player who could get me to watch an entire game, despite never scoring a single point. He did the little things that kept us entertained, kept us interested.
With that said, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the drawbacks. In 1987, Rodman called Larry Bird overrated because he was white. In 1993, he was found sleeping in his car with a loaded rifle, admittedly contemplating suicide, and serving as a distraction for his team for the remainder of the season. In 1994, he was suspended for headbutting Stacey King and John Stockton. In 1996, he was suspended for headbutting a referee. In 1997 he was suspended for kicking a camera man in the nuts (Oscar anyone?). And finally, in 1998, he committed perhaps his most egregious crime of all – he threatened to run naked off the hardwood court (no pun intended) the day he played his last game in the NBA.
You know what? It still doesn’t matter. The Worm deserves to get into the Hall of Fame.
I have heard all of the objections:
“Rodman was a malcontent and distraction” – So what? So was Rick Barry who was notoriously despised by teammates throughout his entire NBA/ABA career, and hit rock bottom when he literally quit during Game 7 of the 1976 Western Conference Finals — refusing to take a shot in the second half after his teammates failed to stand up for him during the Ricky Sobers fight. Yet, Rick Barry is still in the Hall of Fame.
“Rodman’s off-court antics tarnished the image of the game” – Hmmm, let me see here. James Worthy was arrested for soliciting 2 prostitutes, David Thompson was a coke addict, and Wilt Chamberlain was a complete liar (sorry, 20,000 women, 2.5 per day, would have meant that his rod would have fallen off somewhere around 1968).
And then there was Magic Johnson. Magic evidently taught us our most valuable lesson of all – that “different woman have different fantasies” (had no idea!), as he rationalized his infidelity to the general public, and admitted to participating in group orgies somewhere in the lower level of the Great Western Forum basement utility closet after games.
Look, I could care less about the above indiscretions. In fact I am pretty positive that I have committed all of them…..
Ok, maybe none of them.
The point is that each of these players represented the NBA poorly at some point in their career, potentially tarnishing the image of the game. Yet all 4 are in the Hall of Fame and deserve to be. So does Dennis Rodman.
Don’t measure the guy based on his off-the-court antics. Measure him for what he accomplished on the court. The greatest rebounder to ever play the game, one of the greatest defenders, and one of the ultimate Mr. Intangibles in NBA history deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. If not, then it would have been me, not Dennis Rodman, running naked through the Halls of Springfield Massachusetts, and trust me, that would have been a sight that NO ONE would have wanted to see.