Dennis Rodman: 'Isiah Thomas pretty much saved my career'

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Dennis Rodman: 'Isiah Thomas pretty much saved my career'

Interview

Dennis Rodman: 'Isiah Thomas pretty much saved my career'

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NBA legend Dennis Rodman now has his own ESPN ’30 for 30′ documentary: For Better Or Worse. The film, narrated by Jamie Foxx, chronicles Rodman’s career and his rockstar life off the court. The Worm talked with HoopsHype about the documentary, his time with the Lakers and many other topics.

First of all, how did you feel when you watched the documentary?

Dennis Rodman: It’s going to be an enlightenment. All my life’s story, that’s pretty much a part of my life. I think people are going to hear a lot of emotion, a lot of enjoyment, just watching it. All the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, and just the adventure. That’s cool, just the adventure is cool as hell. I think people are going to look at me as more like a rock star. Not just a basketball player, they’ll think I’m just this rock star that just traveled around the world, and did all these crazy things. I think that it’s just going to enlighten people, and it’s giving them a different outlook about who I am.

For Better or Worse. What does the title mean to you?

DR: For Better or Worse, that’s a good one, huh? That’s a good title. I think that the title means the fact that you can take it from the good, or you can take it for the bad. But, either way he’s going to come out on a level where you don’t least expect it; you know, very soft-hearted, very warm-spoken, very cool, very gentle, very down-to-earth person that loves people. That’s what they are going to get out of this whole documentary.

I think that’s why it’s called For Better or Worse. They going to see, wow, they say, ‘This guy is like… oh my God, he’s like, he’s like as cool as hell.’ Even though the things that I do that people don’t like, but people that like say, ‘Wow, he’s actually like that, too, and still can be bad and still good at the same time. Wow, how can I do that, and still maintain a level of consistency and love for people?’ So I think the whole documentary, there’ll be people like, ‘He actually loves people. He doesn’t really care about himself. He cares about people more than he cares about himself.’

Your former Piston teammate, legend Isaiah Thomas, got emotional when he talked about the time you were having some issues while playing against the Bulls. How did you feel when you watched it?

DR: Well, Isaiah was more as a big brother, was more as a mentor to me, than anybody. He would leave his house, his family, in the middle of the night to come take care of me. He knew that I wasn’t too bright, as far as living a life of NBA player. He took the time out, like Chuck Daly did. They took their time out to just embrace me and said, ‘Well, he’s not smart enough to understand what he’s into, what he’s going to get into.’ He’s been on my side from day one. The things I said about Larry Bird in the ’87 playoff series, he took all the heat for me, which I didn’t know then, and he pretty much saved my career at that time. I think that he feels a love for me that he knows the ups and downs I’ve been through. He just feels that I’m part of his family; his kids and his wife, they just believe in me, and he’s just been that same emotional person to me, and I respect that from him.

I think your best game ever was Game 6 vs. the Sonics in the ’96 NBA Finals. Which game or games come to your mind when thinking about what your best NBA performance was?

DR: I think my best, for the all-around performance, I think when I left San Antonio with the Chicago Bulls and we won the 72-10 title, that was my best performance the whole year. I can’t pick any game, I can’t pick any situation, I would say that whole year was like a comeback year for me, and to show people the fact that I actually played with two of the greatest players to ever play the game, and one of the best coaches, probably the best coach in the history of the game, you know, Phil Jackson, and the best team I’ve ever played with. And, the city of Chicago just embraced me so much that I just put all that in a box, and just wrapped it up, and just give a present to everyone in Illinois. That year right there was the best move I ever made, besides going to Detroit.

Who were the toughest players you had the chance to play against in your career?

DR: Well, James Worthy, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone.

If you could go back to 1999, to the moment that you signed with the Lakers, would you find a way to work things out and win a title with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or do you think it was just impossible, that you could deal with the Kobe-Shaq situation back then?

DR: Well, first of all, I loved Jerry Buss to death. Him and Jerry West, I loved those two guys to death. When I went to the Lakers, Jerry Buss came and got me in Orange County, at a restaurant called Ruth’s Chris‘. He sat down and said,  ‘Dennis, I want you to come play for me.’ And, I hadn’t played ball in six months, you know. I thought my career was over, I was done. ‘No, Dennis, I want you to come play for me. I’ve always wanted you to come play for me,’ he said. ‘It took this long for me to come get you.’ He came and got me one day, and I went down, and I did a press conference, and I thought it was a joke. I thought someone was playing a game on me, or something like that. That was in January, or something like that, so I went finally to the Lakers, and I think we won 10 straight games when I first got on the team, and I took a break. I told the team, I said, ‘I got to take a break, I can’t deal with this.’

I could deal with the fame, I could deal with the glamour, I could deal with the glory, and I could deal with the money, and stuff like that, but I just couldn’t deal with the fact that you had a bunch of young guys on that team was sitting there bitching, complaining, all the damn time. I wasn’t used to that. I wasn’t used to people coming in the locker room, being a b*tch, b*tching, doing this, b*tching in the locker room, b*tching on the bus, b*tching on the plane, I mean, ‘God Damn! Man, what the f*ck, what’d I get myself into?’ I’m used to people going on the bus, pissing and complaining about, ‘What sh*t, I could’ve played. Goddammit.’ Stuff like that, but that got to me, and I just took a break, and me and Jerry Buss went to Vegas. We played in Vegas at the MGM. We played cards, and then I came back. We won five out of nine games, and I got released because they said that I left my shoes at home, but that wasn’t the reason. And, Jerry Buss came to me and said, ‘Dennis, I knew nothing about that. I’m sorry, you know, I apologize. If I would have known that I would have stepped in.’ But, he said, ‘Whatever you do, Dennis, whatever you do for the rest of your life, I’m there for you. Whatever you need, you need me, I’m there for you.’ That’s why I love Jerry Buss, because he never forgets someone that he loves… Jeanie Buss, I love that whole family, but Jeanie, she’s just like her father, I love her.

Do you follow NBA basketball nowadays?

DR: Well, you know what’s funny though, is that I’ve been out of basketball for a while, but then I watch it every once in a while. My son watches just non-stop, 24/7, if there’s 26 hours, he’ll watch it 26 hours. He plays right now at Washington State, bless his heart. Good luck with him on that! I’m going to see him a lot this year. But I don’t watch as much these days, it’s just difficult for me to watch it. But it’s exciting for a lot of people, especially the Z generation of today. Because I got the old mentality, you got to earn your money to go out there and play and appreciate the game, and please the fans and make sure you win a championship. That’s my mentality, but I understand what’s going on with the league, and the corporations that provide the benefits for the players.

So I understood it like that, so you know, the league is getting more balanced now, so I hope my son will be there one year, maybe next year or the year after. So I’ll get the chance to watch it again when he gets to the NBA.

I think you were one the first athletes to apply analytics to basketball when you studied your teammates and opposing players’ shooting, figuring out how the basketball was going to bounce in order to get the defensive or the rebound on it. How did you come up with that? There was nothing like that at the time and you figured it out.

DR: I had to do something to change my game, as far as being an offensive player. Let me rebound and do something extra for the team, because I like working. I love earning my money, so I figured it out like, ‘OK, great, so I watch the ball and can beat the other player to the ball, knowing I can’t outjump the other player, I don’t weigh as much, now it’s just like I can analyze where this ball is going to go.’

So I used to have my friends come to the gym at the Bulls’ practice facility. I had my friends in different areas where my teammates would play, where they shoot the ball at, and I asked them to shoot the ball all the time and see where the ball is going to go. I would sit there and watch the trajectory of the shot, and I look at the ball and I see that it’s going to be short, it’s going to be long, it’s going to get the tip, and I put myself in that position to block out and sit there and say, ‘Okay, I got this, no matter what, because if I got one hand, I got another hand I can rebound with.’

That’s how I look at it. Okay, great, I can use my other hand, I got two hands, right? So I’m going to use this hand to this, and hold the other defender off like that. Now, I get the ball, and we have another shot. So I’ve been building that skill where I just blindfolded myself to try to rebound like that… You can just hear the ball come off the rim. So I just did stuff like that, and people didn’t know that.

You were close to some of the greatest rock bands, especially the Grunge ones like Pearl Jam. You even jumped on stage during a Stone Temple Pilots concert. Were you close to their leader, Scott Weiland?

DR: Oh, I used to hang out with all those guys back in the day when I was playing in the NBA: Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Van Halen, you name it, you know, Live… A bunch of bands, I used to hang out with all kind, when we’d go to the series, we’d hang out and stuff like that, watch them play. Scott Weiland, we used to hang out all the time, but he was a wild child when I was there. He was wild. He was just like me, but he was a rock star. We used to go out to nightclubs, restaurants, you know, stay together and stuff like that, and I knew he had a history of stuff like that, but it’s not my place to tell him that you can’t party, you can’t do drugs. Thank God, he left a lot of legacy in the world for the band, and his family, and like I said, the guys in Pearl Jam, Live, all those guys, I love all these bands’ members. I praise all those guys.

You had a great impact in the NBA, both on and off the court. You were not afraid to show your emotions, talk about controversial issues. Now, for example, players openly talk anxiety, depression issues and recently the NBA created a mental health program for players.

DR: When you got so much money, when you’re in the public eye, and you’re on TV all the time, you got a family, you got this and that, people think you don’t have any issues in your life. People don’t know that, but it’s always good to make people aware of what you got going on, what’s going on with you, and stuff like that. Have a little compassion for the players, because even though we are famous or we got money, and stuff like that, we do have a heart, and we do live normal lives and stuff like that. I think it’s good for people, for players to come out and say that, and address the issues at hand before it gets any worse.

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