Dennis Rodman stole the show — and reminded us he’s truly unique — in “The Last Dance”

We don’t have athletes like Dennis Rodman in professional sports these days — but, if truth be told, we never did.

There were never a bunch of athletes “like” Rodman. The wild, weird, wonderfully non-conformist and eternally entertaining outlier of the Chicago Bulls’ final surge towards immortality wasn’t the leader of a generation of over-the-top stars who did, said and wore what they liked.

He was just Rodman. One man on an island, maker of his own reality; one filled with enough imagination, craziness and yes, booze, to form the ultimate reality show before those even became a thing.

“The Last Dance” docuseries would have been woefully incomplete without a proper treatment being given to Rodman, and thankfully it came early, with the first part of Sunday’s doubleheader revolving heavily around the chameleon-haired rebounding warrior and the way he made a team stacked with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen even better.

A confession here: if there is one athlete that makes me wish my career had happened a decade earlier, it is Rodman.

I’d have loved to watch Pele play soccer or Muhammad Ali box live, but there are grainy old videos on YouTube to give a passing imitation of what that must have been like. As a journalist, it is about more than just seeing the greats play. The opportunity to observe Rodman at close quarters, to try to figure out what may be an impossible question — what makes this guy tick? — would have been something close to reporting nirvana for me.

For Rodman is the ultimate paradox. A quiet and reserved man who clad himself in wedding dresses, wigs, full make-up and outrageous clothing. A shy character who blew off steam with parties for the ages.

A guy who left his team to go wild in Las Vegas but who cared so much about winning to throw his body into nightly warfare.

A lone wolf who couldn’t be tamed yet somehow fit into the dynamic of perhaps the greatest team in American sports history.

By the time he retired, I was just starting to finish journalism school. By the time I arrived in the United States in 2007, he’d even finished his global trot around various minor leagues in Mexico, the Philippines, England and Finland.

There is a lot of corporate speak in sports now, just as there was back then. It is far safer, and perhaps smarter, for players to toe the line and talk in clichés, either skirting around their true feelings or burying them.

Not Rodman, who shot from the lip when he felt like it with unabashed bluntness and cared nothing for conformity. You never knew what he was going to do next. For any coach except Phil Jackson, such unpredictability could be a nightmare.

For a writer … a treasure trove.

I told Rodman this once, briefly and opportunistically. Three years ago, a friend was celebrating graduation from medical school and had rented a house in Newport Beach, California. Late into the night, our group were finishing up at a little drinking spot on the Newport peninsula when a tall figure ambled in and pulled up a corner seat by the bar.

There was no grand entrance and zero entourage. Rodman had already hit his mid-50s, after all. The regulars are used to him there. Everyone leaves him be.

The action was going on elsewhere. A wealthy middle-aged businessman was urging his much younger girlfriend to chat up other women to join them in, er, conversation. A tray of shots was being passed around. A loud but generally good-natured argument about something or other was taking place in the corner. The pool tables were seeing some action.

Rodman sat quietly, taking it in, sipping his drink. As our group made to leave, I told him what I’ve just written here. That I’d have loved to write about him. That I respected his approach and realness. That I could write until I’m 90 and still not cover anyone like him.

He was softly spoken and warm spirited. He said he appreciated the sentiment and muttered something about “just being me.” He asked what our group’s celebration was for.

He wore a cap from that bar — the Class of ’47 — for his interview for The Last Dance. It is a cozy place, close to the ferry terminal linking the peninsula to Balboa Island, one of the most expensive zip codes in the country.

The bar is beloved by locals and unchanged for years. It is not a dive, but it isn’t remotely fancy and it doesn’t pretend to be. It is a bit of a contradiction, an unassuming and understated drinking hole amid a sea of extreme wealth, boats and sports cars and beachside McMansions.

It’s not what you’d expect. You can see why Rodman likes it.

The Last Dance will inevitably spark a wave of fresh nostalgia for 1990s basketball and the way things were. Those Bulls were a phenomenon that we may never see the likes of again, athletically and culturally.

Jordan made them great, Pippen made them tick, Jackson made them a step ahead, always. And Rodman, because he’s Rodman, made them unique.

Source: Fox Sports

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