Who Is Dennis Rodman?
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1961, Dennis Rodman was selected in the second round of the 1986 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He on to become one of the league's dominant rebounders, leading the Pistons and later the Chicago Bulls to multiple championships, before earning induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2011. Rodman also earned attention for his reality show appearances, as well as his unusual friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Dennis Keith Rodman was born on May 13, 1961, in Trenton, New Jersey. Rodman was the product of an unstable household. Early in his life, his father, Philander, abandoned his wife, Shirley, and his young family, which included Rodman and his two young sisters. After Philander left, Rodman's mother moved the family to Dallas, where she struggled to keep her children fed and clothed by taking almost any odd job that came her way.
Curiously, Rodman didn't at first appear to be all that athletic or outward going. Short for most of high school, at just 5 feet, 6 inches, he was cut from the school football team and later quit the basketball team because he wasn't getting enough playing time.
After graduating high school in 1979, Rodman's future appeared uncertain. He found work where he could, including a janitor position at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. In his off-time, though, he could be found at local basketball courts, where the now 6-foot, 7-inch player was a force.
Through a family friend, Rodman's exploits soon caught the attention of the coaches at Cooke County Junior College in Gainesville, Texas, who offered Rodman the chance to attend the school. He accepted and proved to be a dominant player for the program. However, Rodman couldn't keep up with the schoolwork and, after a year, he flunked out.
Still, Rodman's play hadn't gone unnoticed, and he was soon invited to enroll at Southeastern Oklahoma State. His on-the-court tenacity overwhelmed opponents, and during his three years at the school he averaged close to 26 points and 16 rebounds per game. In the 1986 NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons made the athletic and gangly 25-year-old Rodman a second-round pick.
The marriage between the Pistons and Rodman was, for a number of years, a great one. Rodman's arrival helped usher in a new era in Pistons basketball. Led by head coach Chuck Daly, whom Rodman came to adore, and point guard Isiah Thomas, Detroit became one of the elite teams in the NBA. The club won the championship in 1989 and again in 1990.
Rodman was a big reason why. A fierce defender and tenacious rebounder, Rodman was selected to the 1990 NBA All-Star team and tapped as Defensive Player of the Year that same season. In 1992, he won the first of seven consecutive rebounding crowns.
In 1993, following the retirement of Daly, Rodman's relationship with the Pistons organization soured and he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs. Prior to the 1995-96 season, Rodman was traded again, this time to the Chicago Bulls, where he'd go on to team up with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to win three consecutive NBA titles.
Following his tenure in Chicago, Rodman signed with the Los Angeles Lakers for a brief run late in the 1999 season. He concluded his playing career the following year with the Dallas Mavericks.
In all, Rodman would finish with five NBA championships, two All-Star appearances, and twice be named the league's top defensive player. In 2011, he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
A Troubled Life
For all his success, however, trouble has never been all that far from Rodman's life. The same intensity Rodman brought to the court has at times thrown his non-basketball life off-kilter. In February 1993, Rodman was found asleep in a truck in a parking lot with a loaded gun, prompting worries that Rodman was suicidal. He denied that was the case.
Still, the sense that Rodman was unstable was something he seemed to embrace as part of his on-court persona. He racked up league fines for his physical play and, in 1997, paid a cameraman $200,000 to settle charges that Rodman had intentionally kicked him in the groin while going after a loose ball. He regularly dyed his hair and relished showcasing his off-court romances with celebrities like Madonna and Carmen Electra.
Rodman's life proved no less turbulent after he retired from basketball. In April 2008, he was arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly hitting his wife at the time, at a hotel. Rodman pleaded no contest and a judge ordered him to complete 45 days of community service.
In June 2010, it was revealed that Rodman owed more than $300,000 in child support.
In addition to his NBA career, Rodman briefly took a stab at professional wrestling, participating in a few matches in the late 1990s. He also had his own series, The Rodman World Tour, around this time.
Rodman went on to become a reality television regular. He returned to Donald Trump's business competition The Apprentice in 2013, after appearing on an earlier season. Known for his wild lifestyle, Rodman attempted to clean up his act on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House in 2010.
Relationship with Kim Jong-un
The always unpredictable Rodman also tried his hand at diplomacy in February 2013. He traveled to North Korea for two days and met with the country's leader, Kim Jong-un. The two share a love of basketball, and Rodman watched a game with Kim during his visit.
When he returned from his trip, Rodman appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Rodman told Stephanopoulos that Kim was "awesome" and "so honest," despite his less-than-stellar record on human rights. The former pro basketball player also expressed in an interest in returning to North Korea to help facilitate peace between the United States and North Korea.
In the spring of 2013, Rodman posted a tweet asking Kim to release Kenneth Bae, an American who'd been sentenced in November 2012 to a 15-year prison term in North Korea. In December 2013, Rodman traveled to North Korea again. That January, Rodman, still in the country, took part in a contentious interview with CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, in which he suggested that Bae's punishment was valid.
Two days after the interview aired, Rodman offered a public apology for his comments. He also admitted that he'd been under a lot of stress and had been drinking at the time. "I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family," Rodman said in a statement, according to CNN. "I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo." Bae was ultimately released the following year.
In June 2018, Rodman traveled to Singapore to be in the general vicinity of the historic summit between President Trump and Kim. While not formally involved in the diplomatic proceedings, Rodman earned an interview with CNN's Cuomo, during which he wore a "Make America Great Again" hat and grew visibly emotional as he described the adversity he faced for befriending Kim.
ESPN's '30 for 30' and 'The Last Dance'
In September 2019, the former basketball star was featured in an episode of ESPN's popular 30 for 30 series, titled "Rodman: For Better or Worse." The documentary featured candid interviews with many of his former teammates, including a clip of Jordan admitting that he didn't expect Rodman to live past 40 because of his partying ways.
Rodman became the focus of attention again the following spring thanks to another ESPN documentary, The Last Dance. Along with showcasing the genius of Jordan as he sought to carry the Bulls to one final championship during the 1997-98 NBA season, The Last Dance revealed how teammates and coaches accommodated Rodman's erratic behavior in exchange for his talents as a defender and rebounder.
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