Rozner: Jim Stack on how the Bulls landed Dennis Rodman

  • The Bulls' Dennis Rodman admires the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy after the Bulls defeated Seattle to win the title in 1996 at the United Center.

    The Bulls' Dennis Rodman admires the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy after the Bulls defeated Seattle to win the title in 1996 at the United Center. Associated Press

  • Former Bulls vice president Jim Stack tells how Dennis Rodman came to be a force in Chicago.

    Former Bulls vice president Jim Stack tells how Dennis Rodman came to be a force in Chicago. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Dennis Rodman grabs a rebound with Scottie Pippen providing backup in Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando at the United Center.

    Dennis Rodman grabs a rebound with Scottie Pippen providing backup in Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando at the United Center. Associated Press

  • Dennis Rodman helped point the Bulls toward the NBA title in 1998.

    Dennis Rodman helped point the Bulls toward the NBA title in 1998. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/25/2020 8:20 PM

A more bizarre scene is hard to imagine.

And that's saying something when remembering the circus that was the 1990s Bulls.

 

As we approach the third episode of "The Last Dance," let's go back to the summer of 1995 when the Bulls were coming off a loss to Orlando in the conference semis. Michael Jordan had returned two months earlier, but Horace Grant had departed and was a featured part of the team that defeated the Bulls.

Unthinkable just weeks before, suddenly there was a meeting in Highland Park at the home of GM Jerry Krause, a summit that included Phil Jackson, agent Dwight Manley, assistant GM Jim Stack, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jack Haley and ... wait for it ... Dennis Rodman.

One of the "Bad Boys" who inflicted as much physical pain on Jordan and Pippen -- especially Pippen -- as any of the Pistons, with consistently dirty fouls that brought back memories of the mid-70s Philadelphia Flyers, here was Rodman looking for a job with the Bulls.

"We lost to Orlando and a big part of that was Horace was gone and we had a gap down low," Stack says now, recalling his conversations with Krause after the season. "We didn't have enough rebounding or that front-court presence.

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"Toni (Kukoc) did an admirable job, but if we could fill that spot at power forward, I thought we could use Toni as a sixth man. With his playmaking ability at 6-foot-11, and being great on the perimeter, nobody had a guy like that in that role."

As for Rodman, Stack -- who spent 13 years as Krause's right-hand man -- said it was a nonstarter unless he could first get Krause to at least consider the idea.

"I had done all the advance scouting the years when we were trying to beat the Pistons, and I would see Dennis an hour after the game still riding the bike," said the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Stack, a sixth-round pick of the Rockets in 1983, playing at St. Laurence and Northwestern before five years in Belgium, Israel and France. "I mean, that's crazy. You play 40 minutes and playing physical like they did, and now he's riding the bike for an hour?

"The guy never gets tired. He was a freak like Michael in that respect. He was bionic."

Jackson had given Krause a list of candidates for power forward and Rodman was ninth or 10th on that list.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I just thought if we could get Dennis -- as crazy as it sounded then, as impossible as it seemed -- it would give Phil so many more options," Stack said. "Toni could play the 2, 3 or 4. He would be a lethal weapon and a huge matchup problem.

"But we needed someone to defend. We needed Dennis. No one wanted to hear it, but Dennis was the answer."

Problem was, as Stack tried to convince Krause, every call the GM made to ask others about Rodman hardened Krause against the idea. Even then, if Krause bought in he would still have to convince Jerry Reinsdorf and Jackson, and the head coach would then have to sell Jordan and Pippen.

It was a longshot at best.

"I knew Jack Haley, who played with Dennis in San Antonio, and Jack kept saying it was a perfect fit," Stack laughed. "I said, 'Jack, I'm putting my (guts) on the line here.' But Jack loved the idea and he did a lot behind the scenes to help. So did (Rodman agent) Dwight Manley.

"Finally, Jerry (Krause) got on board with it, but he had to talk to (Gregg Popovich). Pop wanted Dennis out. Both teams were over the cap so the money had to work. Jerry offered Will Perdue, who had become a good backup center and San Antonio was looking for that.

"Pop said he'd think about it, but we knew he wanted Dennis gone. He was killing their locker room and that doesn't fly with Pop."

Getting the Spurs to agree to a trade was the least of the Bulls' problems.

"So now everyone was at Jerry's house and we sat there for a long time talking. It took like six weeks just to get that far," Stack said. "It was a bit chilly at first, but Dennis made promises and we really needed him if we were going to make another run with Michael.

"Once everyone was comfortable, and everyone was willing to let bygones be bygones, Phil said Dennis needed to apologize to Scottie. So they went out onto the back patio alone and I guess Dennis sort of apologized.

"It was one of those things where we needed him and he needed us even more or he was probably done, but no part of this worked without the leadership of Michael and Scottie.

"They held guys accountable. There was a structure in place and it was a mature roster with a lot of veteran guys with character."

So Rodman was allowed to be Rodman off the court, as long as he was vintage Rodman on the court. The second three-peat is all the proof you need that it worked.

"Look, No. 23 is the reason. He's all the reasons," Stack said. "He policed Dennis. He policed everything.

"You know, Michael's practice habits are legendary. He would ruin guys in practice and then there's no way the game would be as hard for them, because no one would play them in a game as hard as Michael did in practice. I don't know where he got the energy.

"Dennis didn't always practice that hard."

So Rodman the cartoon character ...

"He liked the image of the party boy and a lot of that was real, but he was a ferocious worker," Stack said. "I'd be in my office at 11 o'clock at night and I'd hear noise from the weight room, and I'd look down and there was Dennis with his posse lifting weights until all hours and running on the treadmill.

"Dennis didn't want people to know he was doing that stuff. He didn't want people to know he was working that hard, but he was making sure he was ready to play. He was cut like Michael in that way, in the way he worked off the court.

"He was great at marketing, but he answered the bell when it was time to play."

The result was three more titles.

"I always felt bad that Toni never really got much credit, but he was a star in his own right," said Stack, who later became an assistant coach with Isiah Thomas in Indiana and the GM in Minnesota. "Toni accepted that role with us and became Sixth Man of the Year. He really gave us a weapon off the bench that no one else had.

"He doesn't get mentioned a lot, especially with everyone wrestling for credit. It's easy to forget that he had some unbelievable clutch performances for us against Seattle and Utah in those championships."

And the man supposedly so stubborn that no one could work with him also made an adjustment.

"To the credit of Jerry (Krause), he did a 180 on Dennis, because when we first started talking there was no chance," Stack said. "Jerry was willing to go against his principles and was willing to bring him in because he wanted to win.

"He used to say, 'Is that guy OKP?' Our kind of people. Dennis didn't fit the template. Dennis didn't meet most of the criteria. Jerry could have shut me down, but he let me pursue it, one level at a time. Give Phil credit, too, for navigating the players and making it work with Dennis. That was not easy.

"When we started, nobody wanted Dennis. It was an uphill battle. It took almost two months from start to finish."

Until the Worm finally turned.

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