Dennis Rodman can’t help but chortle at the way LeBron James and other NBA superstars take to rest, in reaction to the same sort of 100-game season that Dennis used to routinely take part in as a championship member of the Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls.
Steve Kerr, coach of a Golden State Warrior team that played 103 games in 2014-15 and 106 in 2015-16, doesn’t want to hear it. The former Bulls champion and Rodman teammate only missed significant time during his own run with the Bulls when 300-pound Derrick Coleman, to use Kerr’s words, “sat on” Kerr prior to breaking the shooter’s collarbone in 1997-98, knocking him out for 32 games. Dennis, meanwhile, missed 18 and then 27 contests in his first two seasons with Chicago, with 17 games coming in the form of a league-mandated suspension.
Rodman, who had missed 33 games in 1994-95 as a Spur due to injury and (mostly) team and league suspension prior to the trade that dealt him to Chicago, was notorious for removing himself from the premises midseason during two of his three seasons with the Bulls. That didn’t stop D-Rod from aligning himself with Bulls leader Michael Jordan, when appearing on CBS Sports earlier in the week (via SB Nation):
“You know what, LeBron’s doing one thing that I always said that Michael Jordan never did,” Rodman said. “He never rested. He played every game. He played every game. LeBron has the position to do this now because they need him. The league needs him that’s why he’s doing all this crazy s— now like bitching and complaining and all this [BS].”
Steve Kerr, as he often was with his former teammate, was bemused:
Steve Kerr saw Rodman complaining about NBA players resting: "I got a good kick out of that…Dennis was suspended 15 games a year anyway." pic.twitter.com/9lKzZ7OMRy
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 6, 2017
“I saw Dennis Rodman was complaining about” resting players, Kerr, chuckling, said before Wednesday’s game against the Suns. “I got a good kick out of that, because Dennis was suspended 15 games a year anyway. He got plenty of rest … or went to Vegas or WrestleMania. He just took a night off whenever he wanted, so he can’t complain.”
In Dennis’ defense, he never claimed to share Michael Jordan’s propensity for playing in every contest. And, in Rodman’s defense, he never left Chicago to jet off to a WrestleMania appearance during the regular season. That only happened during the Finals.
Rodman’s exclusion from the Chicago Bulls’ cast of retired numbers (which does not include Kerr’s No. 25, later used by Corey Benjamin) is unexplainable in many ways, but the Bulls franchise will attempt to typically by pointing to the slim number of regular season contests the man played with the Bulls. Rodman’s run with the club from September of 1995 through June, 1998 was legendary, and it encompassed three championships, but it also included just 199 regular season games. That’s what the Bulls will remind you, anyway.
What Kerr is here to remind us of are the times when Dennis Rodman, alternately enervated or made anxious by the too-long 82-game season, decided that he needed a break.
The weirdness was in the air even before Rodman’s six-game, 1996 suspension for head-butting referee Ted Bernhardt in the midst of a poorly-officiated, Scottie Pippen-less slugfest against the New Jersey Nets in 1996. So much so that even the old ‘ABC PrimeTime Live’ news magazine (following Chicago during the dregs of the March), then-hosted by Chris Wallace, was caught up enough to characterize Rodman’s 1996 suspension as inevitable (in a clip that sadly is not online).
Rodman, who was frustrated by a series of no-calls in a game against Net big men Jayson Williams, P.J. Brown and Rick Mahorn, was also smarting from a lack of attention (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had recently shot to the top of the list as the NBA’s No. 1 pincushion) and Chicago’s worst loss of the season just a few days before, tipped the scales by head-butting Bernhardt in a contest that did not feature an injured Scottie Pippen.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson admitted later in 1996 that during this time Scottie Pippen was significantly gassed, and “under duress” due to nagging ankle and back injuries. The Bulls, according to Phil Jackson, “had to take off a few games to get [Pippen’s] legs back in good shape.”
Here’s how Jackson, in the same book, detailed Rodman’s absence from class:
“Saturday, March 16, Dennis Rodman did what everyone had been waiting for – he got suspended. He head-butted an official and then made everything worse by defaming the commissioner and the head of officials.”
Rodman, aggrieved following his headbutt and ejection, dared both David Stern and then-NBA head of punishment Rod Thorn to “suspend me,” driving the final nail into the coffin of the idea that the whole mess was somehow accidental, as if Dennis (working in New Jersey, just a short ride away from Atlantic City) truly wanted to join the plane to play in Philadelphia against the lowly 76ers the next night. The power forward, following the six-game suspension, would return in time for the Bulls’ visit to South Beach on April 2.
The 1996 suspension came with Bulls center Luc Longley also out due to injury, during a stretch that saw the Bulls lose their legs while playing six games in eight nights. Anyone watching then or commenting now should safely conclude that Chicago badly needed some rest. Scottie Pippen, an MVP candidate for the two and a half seasons prior to his midseason “few games” off in 1995-96, was never the same player after that stretch of season within Chicago’s push toward 72 wins, and its 100-game run toward championship glory.
The Bulls were in the middle of a nine-game stretch stuck within a 15-night term in 1996-97 when Rodman, frustrated and wanting out during a week that saw him battling Kevin Garnett, All-Star Vin Baker, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and the Rockets’ duo of Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon twice, struck cameraman Eugene Amos after a fall on Hennepin:
He was then dealt an 11-game suspension, stretching over the season’s midpoint, which allowed him to regain his relative senses. Rodman returned with a vengeance, averaging 14.5 rebounds a game over his next 19 contests. Dennis pulled in 21 caroms in 30 minutes on March 25 when he sprained his right MCL, cutting short his season after 55 games.
In reaction, the Bulls (who had given Rodman a cleared-conscience, $9 million and one-year deal in 1996) offered the 34-year old an incentive-based, $4.5 million contract during the 1997 offseason that Rodman quickly accepted. Despite seeing his income halved due to bad behavior and disinterest in playing all 82 games, Rodman flourished within the setting that followed: Dennis worked 80 contests, leading the league in rebounding, during his last year with Chicago in 1997-98.
There’s no shame in wanting an out, especially when stuck on the road in East Rutherford or Minneapolis, during the course of a 100-plus game season. Dennis Rodman is ill at ease with others surrounding him feeling at ease, and that was part of what made him so fun. He also had Michael Jordan, at 82 games a season, to help cover for things.
Perhaps that’s why Dennis Rodman may have confused his own permanence in the Chicago lineup with that of No. 23. Good thing we have Steve Kerr around to spread the floor.
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