I should be dead now
Basic statistics guarantee Dennis Rodman a place in NBA history. Seven straight rebounding titles: best of all time. Better than Wilt. Better than Bill Russell. Better than Wes Unseld. I’m one of only a handful of players to win as many as five championships – six if you count the Jam ABA title. I am even making a splash in some of the new statistics that have come along.
These days, coaches and basketball junkies are forever trying to come up with new statistics that will give them an edge or just settle a bar bet. Sometimes, they can get way out there.
Here’s one that The Sporting News says basketball junkies have adapted from baseball statistician Bill James. It’s called the “modified Pythagorean formula,” and it is supposed to predict a team’s winning percentage based on the number of points scored and the number of points allowed. Here’s how a reporter explained it to me after reading about it in TSN. A team’s winning percentage (WP) is equal to the number of points scored (PS) multiplied by itself 13.91 times divided by the same number added to the number of points allowed (PA) multiplied by itself 13.91 times. Or, in mathematical terms:
WP = PS13.91 /(PS13.91 + PA13.91)
Say what? I knew I should have shown up for that Algebra class. Here’s another new stat basketball-reference.com calls the “Similarity Score.” It compares how players performed when they were the same age. For example, when I was 35 and playing with the Bulls, the player I was most like, according to the “Similarity Score,” was the 35-year-old Charles Oakley, the hard-nosed, power forward for the Knicks. How do they come up with this one? Basektball-reference.com explains using Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets and LeBron James of the Cavaliers at 19.
First, here’s a little background:
The P.E.R., “Player Efficiency Rating,” which they talk about, is calculated by subtracting a player’s “negative accomplishments” from a player’s “positive accomplishments” to get a “per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” The “Usage Rate” is an estimate of “the number of possessions a players uses in 40 minutes played.”
Got all that?
After comparing and ranking Carmelo and Lebron in 13 categories like rebounding, three-point shooting, this, that, the “differences” in the ranks were calculated. So here’s how basketball-reference.com wraps up the Carmelo-Lebron comparison.
The sum of the squared differences is 3037; adding in the penalties for P.E.R. and Usage Rate gives us 3047. The square root of this number is 55.2. The similarity between these two seasons is 1000*(1-(55.2 / 144060 = 855.) As it turns out, Anthony had the most similar season at age 19 to James, and vice versa.
I’m like, “Yeah, but can Lebron take Carmelo one-on-one?” I’m sure the “Similarity Score” is useful to somebody, somewhere, but it doesn’t mean shit to me. But there is one new off-the-wall statistic out there that I’ve come to love. It’s called the “Rebound Rate.”
The Rebound Rate measures “the percentage of missed shots a player rebounded” when he was in the game. My percentage is 23.44. That means that when I was on the floor, I pulled down about one out of every four rebounds that came off the rim. That’s fucking amazing. One out of four balls that pop off that rim, consistently, every night. That’s unbelievable even to me. No wonder I rank number one, all time.
Who’s second? This Dutch guy named Swen Nater who never started a college game, but still was drafted in the first round by Milwaukee in 1973. Seems Swen spent his four years at UCLA as Bill Walton’s backup. Finally, coming in at number 12 all time for Rebound Rate, is Will Perdue, the seven-something center San Antonio got when they traded me to Chicago. When he was in the game, Will pulled down just short of one out of every five and a half balls coming off the rim. Maybe the Spurs were on to something after all.
Numbers don’t lie. So let’s get down to it with some tried and true, traditional stats that will tell you exactly where Dennis Rodman ranks. Bottom line? I am not the best rebounder of all time. That’s pretty much a dead heat between Wilt Chamberlain, who reportedly averaged 22.9 rebounds per game for his career – unreal – and six times averaged 24 or more during the regular season; and Bill Russell, who averaged 22.5 for his career, including seven straight seasons of 23 or more. Again, that’s unreal. These two giants got almost 10 rebounds a game more than I did. My career average of 13.1 puts me at number 12 all time, which brings me back to Rebound Rate, the percentage of available rebounds a player pulls down. How do Wilt and Bill Russell compare? Wilt places seventh, and – I find this hard to believe – Russell doesn’t even make the top 50. Could be a mistake there. But if you’re looking for somebody to crunch the numbers, this phys-ed major is not your boy. There’s one number I do understand though: number one. And after 58 years of NBA play, that’s where I rank for Rebound Rate.
Of course, new or old, there are many things that statistics just don’t measure: heart, the energy level you bring to the floor, how well you can get into another guy’s head, and the number of Redheaded Sluts you can drink and still get it up – all categories in which Dennis Rodman excelled.
There’s one last contribution I made to the game of basketball and sports in general. Now I don’t claim to be a Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson. Those dudes didn’t just revolutionize sports; they changed the world. I put them up there with Martin Luther King. But I did create another way to be a world-class athlete following in the footsteps of people like Muhammad “Float-like-a-butterfly, sting-like-a-bee” Ali and Joe Namath.
“Broadway Joe” started playing professional football back in the sixties when the great Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts was the poster boy for professional football. Clean cut, poker-faced, forever polite and respectful, you could imagine Unitas teaching Sunday school when he was not mentoring Boy Scouts on the mysteries of the square knot and sheepshank. The closest thing to Unitas today is probably Tim Duncan. So Unitas was the role model, and then the brash, cocky, fur-coat wearing, hard-partying Joe Namath came on the scene. Booze and broads, baby! Namath was considered kind of out there until his way-underdog New York Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969 – just as Joe had predicted. Suddenly this early bad boy was at the top of the heap, and there was a whole new way to be a football player. I did the same thing for basketball players, and I have photographic proof.
In the NBA at 50, there’s this two-page color spread containing a dozen individual pictures of players from the Bulls and Sonics exiting buses in the bowels of some arena. I’m guessing this was before some game in the 1996 NBA finals, but I’m not sure. Anyway, on the left hand page, far left, top row, there’s a shot of Michael Jordan looking very Fortune 500 in his dark suit, white shirt, and gold tie. Bottom row, middle, on the same page, Scottie Pippen’s looking a little more casual in his beige suit and matching brown print tie – not that he wouldn’t look at home in the board room. In all, eight of the 12 guys pictured have on suits, and Chicago’s Ron Harper has on a GQ-worthy tan blazer and brown slacks. Even Gary Payton, a guy who at times has made even me look tame, has on a spiffy suit. There are a couple of Sonics who don’t toe the line: the fashion-challenged Detlef Schrempf and Frank Brickowski – remember that name. Schrempf has on a white polo shirt and black slacks and Brickowski is wearing a denim jacket, black T-shirt, and jeans.
And Dennis Rodman? Let’s start at the top.
I’ve got on this big, shapeless, turquoise and black hat – looks like a laundry bag sitting on top of my head – shades, earrings, nose studs, and a tattoo-revealing, white, Van Halen T-Shirt. The T-shirt features a black-and-white photo of a couple of weight-challenged female acrobats on front. They are head to head, one fat woman balancing the second, upside down, spread-eagled fat woman on the top of her noggin. I completed my ensemble with a pair of shapeless, gray-and-white-print pants – look like pajama bottoms – that match the gray tones in the black-and-white photograph. Oh, and I’d altered the T-shirt, cut out a V-neck, and in the “V,” you can see four or five necklaces. Overall impression: this ain’t a guy about to run through a Power Point presentation on quarterly earnings.
That photo spread pretty much says it all. At a time when Michael Jordan was everything the NBA wanted a player to be, the second most famous player in the game, one Dennis Rodman, was showing there was another way to be a world-class athlete—both on and off court. Like Wilt’s old Philly teammate, Chet “The Jet” Walker said in the NBA at 50, “Dennis Rodman is bringing something different to the game, something the game has never seen before.”
So why’d I ask you to remember the name of my old pal, Frank Brickowski, from the Sonics? I wanted to share this slightly abridged blast from the past as reported in an Associated Press story dated June 10, 1996.
Just like the rest of the NBA finals, the head games battle between Chicago’s Dennis Rodman and Seattle’s Frank Brickowski has been no contest. Brickowski was thrown out for the second time in three games Sunday after knocking Rodman down with a forearm to the Adam’s apple.
“It breaks my heart that he has to leave the game,” Rodman said.
Those were the days, baby. Those were the fucking days.
Back at the Cedars-Sinai benefit, the waiters were hustling, kicking it into high gear. The salad plates disappeared and plates with a filet with all the trimmings – julienned vegetables and this potato casserole thing – were plopped down in front of the 11 people at my table. The reporter started digging in while the rest of our group nibbled around the edges – Symone eating a couple of bites of salad, Darren and Thaer eating a bite of this and a bite of that – holding out for the sushi we’d be having as soon as we bailed out of there.
On my right, four chairs over, Paul Westphal was chatting up Drew Gooden, inviting him to work out over at Pepperdine. “Make your friends before you need them,” I was thinking. Westphal’s name keeps coming up every time there’s a NBA coaching vacancy, and the job in Cleveland, where Gooden plays, hasn’t been the most secure position since the new owner took over.
On stage they were gearing up to present the “Lifetime Achievement Awards” to Pete Carroll, who had just led USC to two straight NCAA football championships, and Jerry Rice, who the program called the “greatest wide receiver ever to play in the NFL.” Me, I like Jerry because he’s been known to wear earrings, and he’s appeared on a Wheaties box. That’s a man who has it all. All this got me to thinking about the greatest this and the greatest that.
One time somebody at ESPN asked me, “If you had to pick the five greatest NBA players of all time, who would they be?”
I was like, “Dennis Rodman, Dennis Rodman, Dennis Rodman …” and so forth. But if I really had to pick a “Dennis Rodman Dream Team,” I would put Michael Jordan number one. I’d put Scottie Pippen at the two guard, of course. As my center, I’d put myself, and as my small forward, I’d go with James Worthy from the Lakers. My power forward would be Kevin McHale from the Celtics. As far as a shooting guard, coming off the bench, that would have to be Steve Kerr – that guy could shoot the fuck out of it.
Why James Worthy? I’m one of the best defensive players of all time, and I couldn’t guard his ass.
“If you defended me three or four different ways,” said Worthy in the NBA at 50, “ … then I had three or four different moves.”
No shit. He would be coming off a screen, and I’d be trying to figure out whether he was going over the top or underneath. Next thing I knew, he was at the rim. Now if we’d played those guys more, I might have figured out how to guard his ass. But there was nothing but frustration with James Worthy. Clever, quick, a great player – he’s one of the few guys who flat pissed me off. I want him on my team just so I don’t have to guard him.
Now if you ask me what real team I was on that was the best – a team I would like to be on today – that would be the team we had the first two years that I was in Chicago. Aside from all the talent, this was a team that was happy. Just happy. There was no bitching. I mean it was great. Of course, all that happiness might have had something to do with all the winning we were doing. In 1995-96 we won 72 regular-season games – best ever – and the NBA championship. Then we won another championship in 1996-97. You’re winning baby, and the owner’s happy, the GM is happy, the coach is happy, and the guys playing are happy. And the guys who aren’t playing? They’re not so happy, but they’ve got no grounds for complaining.
And me? I might have been the happiest motherfucker of all. Perfect coach, perfect team, perfect city. Today? I’m not so happy. Not after being kicked around by the NBA for four or five years. But as I looked around the Cedars-Sinai banquet table that night, I could see I wasn’t the first guy to be abused by the NBA. Paul Westphal coached at the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics before ending up at Pepperdine, not exactly the college elite. Drew Gooden has been on three teams in four years. This league can chew your ass up and spit it out, and nobody exits unscathed. Even superstars get hurt, lose a step, get old, and then “there’s no room in the inn,” y’know? It’s something you understand in your head. In your heart? That’s another deal. I looked at the reporter. He played somewhere back in the sixties, and he was thinking he could still play – half-speed anyway – right up until about a year ago. That’s when he blew out his ACL. Shit, anybody could have seen the son of a bitch shouldn’t have been out there. What is he? 55? 60? I guess his body gave out before his heart. Maybe that’s what they’ll say about me one day.
But not yet, baby, not yet.
Dennis Rodman is a seven-time NBA rebounding champion. The 44-year-old now makes his home in Huntington Beach, California, where he lives with his wife and two children
Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com