Dennis Rodman: Big piece of the Bulls' party
When the Bulls were struggling to catch up to the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s, they utilized the ancient strategy of keeping friends close and enemies closer.
Former Bulls assistant general manager Jim Stack spent countless hours in Pontiac and Auburn Hills scouting the Bad Boy Pistons, trying to find something the Bulls could exploit in the playoffs.
It took a few seasons before the Bulls finally beat Detroit in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.
But Stack's observations had an even bigger payoff years later when the Bulls searched for a power forward to replace Horace Grant. When Stack suggested Dennis Rodman, he met a brick wall of resistance from his boss, longtime Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.
"I said, 'Jimmy, that's crazy. I don't want any part of it. He's nuts,'" Krause recalled. "Two months before we traded for (Rodman), I didn't want him."
Stack refused to give up easily. Rodman was playing for San Antonio at the time, but Stack reverted back to those observations in Detroit.
"What was compelling about Dennis is after he would play 45 minutes in a game, he would go in the weight room for an hour-and-a-half," said Stack, a Barrington resident.
"I would kind of hang around and go to the press conference, see who was around. I'd see Dennis in there and he's working himself into a lather riding the exercise bike, lifting weights. That always stuck with me."
This also was around the time Rodman began to increase his off-the-court antics and publicity-seeking activities. The Spurs had seen enough and were eager to unload the league's rebounding leader.
"The off-the-court, kind of wild stuff, I think that started to kick in when he dated Madonna and he got into how Madonna invented herself from a marketing perspective," Stack said. "Dennis was interested in expanding his off-the-court revenue."
Stack figured Rodman would be reliable on the basketball floor and the Bulls had enough veteran leadership in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson, to handle any curveballs Rodman threw at them.
So Stack collected opinions from people who knew Rodman well and kept working on Krause.
"He was still adamant," Stack said. "He started getting upset. 'Hey, we're not going to do this.' It evolved over a period of months. I give Jerry a lot of credit for coming around and being open-minded."
Krause checked the evidence Stack collected and warmed to the idea but still needed to be convinced.
"We agreed with the San Antonio club on a deal (for Will Perdue), but the provision was Dennis had to come and spend two days at my home, so we could really sit down and talk to one another," Krause said.
"He came and spend most of the time with us those two days. At the end of two days, I looked at Phil and Phil looked at me and I said, 'This is a good risk. We're going to do this.' Phil said, 'Great.'"
The Bulls won three more championships and set the NBA record for wins in a season, while Rodman became an international celebrity. There were a few unnecessary head butts and photographer kicks along the way, but adding Rodman was clearly a wise move for the Bulls.
The man nicknamed "The Worm" will get another turn in the spotlight when he's enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night in Springfield, Mass.
Jackson will present both Rodman and longtime Bulls assistant Tex Winter. Ex-Bulls center Artis Gilmore also is in this year's class.
Rodman led the NBA in rebounds for seven consecutive seasons, from 1992-98, playing for three different teams. He won a total of five championships with the Bulls and Pistons, while earning defensive player-of-the-year honors in 1990 and '91.
Rodman's life probably was more interesting before he got to the NBA. Growing up in Dallas, he never played high school basketball.
But after a growth spurt he caught the attention of some college coaches and attended Southeast Oklahoma State, where he averaged 26 points and 13.1 rebounds in his first full season of college basketball.
During these years, he befriended Bryne Rich, a teenager he met at a basketball camp. Rich had recently lost his best friend in a hunting accident and Rodman became a big-brother figure, essentially living with the Rich family during his college years.
"He's a giving, caring person," Krause said of Rodman. "I know the reputation isn't that way, but he is. He cares about people. He was extremely generous with everybody."
Rodman has vowed to play it straight at the Hall of Fame ceremony. So he's not likely to show up wearing a wedding dress, but with Rodman anything is possible.
"Dennis had his moments where he tested the limits of what's acceptable," Stack said. "I think the city fell in love with his work ethic and his lunch-pail approach to the game. I guess the rest is history."