McDill shares his insight about Rodman, the Palace Walkout and more
Former Daily Herald sports writer Kent McDill was the only full-time traveling beat writer to cover the entirety of the Bulls' championship era. He joins Mike McGraw to again add his insight to Episodes 3 and 4 of ESPN's "The Last Dance" documentary.
MM: Dennis Rodman was probably the star attraction of Sunday's episodes. What was it like for you to deal with him?
KM: From a personal standpoint, I was really not happy that they traded for Dennis because I didn't want to have to deal with him. All I knew of him was his behavior for the Pistons playing against the Bulls. By the time Dennis' three years were over, I loved the guy. In one-on-one conversations, he was engaging and intelligent -- more intelligent than he was given credit for, at least -- and funny and self-deprecating.
I enjoyed those occasions when I had him to myself. Not just to talk basketball, we talked about all sorts of stuff. I didn't like the guy he was in front of the camera and I tried to distance myself from that guy as much as possible. But from a personal level, one-on-one, I find Dennis to be very enjoyable. I mentioned on a number of occasions, I can see what Kim Jong-Un sees in Dennis.
MM: It reminded me of the days when some people had the duty during the playoffs of waiting outside the locker room for Dennis to walk out and then follow him to his car with the recorders out and hope he might say something, but he usually didn't. It was impossible to get a calm moment around Dennis at home games.
KM: We called it the "Walk of Shame," and I think that was a pretty good description. They showed it Sunday. That job is not as glamorous as some people want you to think it is when you have to follow a guy through a hallway who has no intention of talking to you.
MM: It seems to me that Rodman's Las Vegas vacation they talked about wasn't very public at the time. I don't remember hearing anything about it, do you?
KM: I am in total agreement with you. I don't remember writing about Dennis taking a two-day break unless it happened at a time when they had a two- or three-day break between games. And this whole business about how Michael Jordan went to Vegas to get him back. I don't remember seeing any reference to that back when it was actually happening.
MM: I think that was misleading. I think Michael actually went to Dennis' house in Deerfield, which was a couple of blocks away from the Berto Center. From what I've heard from Bulls employees over the years, that was a regular occurrence. Almost every day they had to send someone to ring his doorbell 10 times and wait around while all the partygoers stumbled around his house until Dennis was ready to head to practice.
I looked back at that season. Rodman played in 80 of the 82 games but was listed as not with the team for a Jan. 23 game at New Jersey.
KM: The one thing I thought was good about the programming with Dennis is they managed to do what they failed to do in their "30 for 30," which was allow Dennis to explain how he rebounded. They went to good lengths to indicate just how talented a basketball player he was. Somebody mentioned on Twitter that Dennis Rodman is the only basketball player for whom a highlight reel could be produced and show nothing but rebounds. And that doesn't even go into his defense, which they also discussed. So from a basketball standpoint, I thought they did a really good job showing how important Dennis was to the team.
MM: My other thought about Dennis is it was funny how he went from hated member of the Bad Boy Pistons to one of the greatest sports sensations in Chicago history, practically overnight. Speaking of the Bad Boys, we should talk about the '91 walk-off at the Palace. Horace Grant's "straight-up (bleeps)" comment got a lot of play.
KM: I liked the production value of them presenting Isiah Thomas' statement to Michael, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson on the tablets. I thought that was really cool.
MM: Could you even see what was happening from your seat?
KM: There were so many people in front of me at that point. I honestly didn't recognize the fact that something dramatic was happening. I know I didn't look up to see if they shook hands. Then when we got back in the locker room, it was a topic of conversation. Michael had a smirk on his face because they had not only beaten the Pistons in that series, they had taken a hunk of their macho away. Them not congratulating the Bulls was like a second victory in Michael's eyes.
MM: I've got an unusual perspective on this since my first job out of college was an internship for the Pistons, so I liked that team. It always baffled me why there was such a strong negative reaction. And still exists, obviously, almost 30 years later.
KM: I don't know. It was the Bad Boys losing to the beautiful team. Everybody was looking forward to the passing of the torch. It seemed to me the only people that were Pistons fans were from Detroit. It wasn't just the passing of the torch, it was the good guys won and the bad guys lost.
MM: The Pistons did get a lot of insults back then, especially from the Chicago media. A lot of it was warranted, but maybe they felt like they didn't get the credit they deserved after two championships.
KM: My sons were watching the footage of Bill Laimbeer just ripping Jordan and Pippen down to the ground and they were both just shocked that basketball was played that way. They know the Bad Boys, but that was just beyond what they had ever seen -- especially when it was scene after scene of what went on in the interior of those games.
MM: The Bulls and Pistons played six times in the regular season back then and four years in a row in the playoffs. If you just take the hardest fouls and play them back to back, to me it seems a lot worse than it did when you were watching the games as they happened. There were hundreds of minutes of good basketball going on, but it was definitely much different from what it is today.
Anyway, I was glad to see you finally got a mention and some airtime. There was that scene where you and the Sun-Times' John Jackson were in the door of the training room somewhere talking to Jordan. Do you know where that was?
KM: I don't know where it was, but I had written at one point that people needed to spend more time appreciating what was going on with the team and less time worrying about Michael's future. Michael said in that scene that he was getting tired of answering that question.
One thing that was nice is it showed just how much availability we had with that team back then. I got a lot of work done in that kind of situation. We were on the road, so they didn't have the place locked up like they do at the United Center. I did lots of interviews with Michael and Dennis and Scottie in training room situations like that with Chip Schaefer taping their ankles.
MM: You and I have talked about the '89 Cavs game before. On the television broadcast, when they show a replay of Doug Collins celebrating Michael's basket on the Bulls' bench, you can also see the Sun-Times' Lacy Banks jumping up and down at the press table.
KM: I've seen the shot a million times. It's funny, you see me writing something down. I'm writing a note to myself about a detail of that moment. Then Lacy's jumping up and down. He was screaming, 'We won, we won,' and he got suspended for a week for doing that, because of that video. That scene is so funny. Doug basically pushes Phil Jackson out of the way to go out and run around.
MM: I didn't realize Lacy got suspended.
KM: It didn't change him, but he got in a lot of trouble for it.
MM: What about Jerry Krause dancing on the team plane?
KM: Oh my God. I'll never unsee that. I could have lived my entire life without seeing that video and I would have been just fine.
It was fun seeing the stuff on the plane and Michael ripping Scott Burrell and ripping Bill Wennington. Bill was injured at the time, so he was just using his video camera and talking to reporters. That was some pretty cool footage.
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