Without a doubt one of the most outlandish personalities to ever play professional basketball, Dennis Rodman earned a reputation for being the game's best defensive player while also developing a bad boy image showcased with multi-colored hair, numerous tattoos and any number of body piercings. As a member for the notorious "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons during their heyday in the 1980s, Rodman showed his fierce rebounding and blocking skills while intimidating opposing players with his often flagrant style of play which resulted in numerous suspensions. As he moved on to play for the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, Rodman displayed increasingly bizarre behavior that included cross-dressing in public while displaying his anger on the court, particularly in an ugly incident where he kicked a cameraman in the groin. Over the years, he had high-profile romances with Madonna and Carmen Electra, ran afoul of the law for several domestic incidents, and battled alcohol addiction. Because of his larger-than-life persona, Rodman sought further fame in movies like "Double Team" (1997) and "Cutaway" (2000), while joining Hulk Hogan as a tag team partner in professional wrestling. Rodman's off-the-court problems continued when he appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice," which led to an intervention and a stint in rehab. Though he continued his outlandish behavior well into retirement, Rodman - who entered the Hall of Fame in 2011 - remained one of the most dominate defensive players in NBA history.
Born on May 13, 1961 in Trenton, NJ, Rodman grew up the shy and introverted son of Philander, an Air Force pilot and Vietnam War veteran, and his mother Shirley, who took a series of odd jobs to support the family after his father left and settled in the Philippines. He grew up with his two sisters, Debra and Kim, in Oak Cliff, a crime-ridden section of Dallas, TX. Both his sisters played basketball and led to Rodman at least trying to do the same, though the shy and still rather short youth was often left behind. He attended South Oak Cliff High School, where Rodman played basketball for future college coach Gary Blair, but failed to distinguish himself both on the court and in the classroom. After graduating, he worked as an overnight janitor at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport until experiencing a sudden growth spurt that prompted him to try basketball once again. After exceeding expectations at Cooke County College in Gainesville, TX, Rodman was expelled due to poor academic performance following just one semester at the school.
Rodman's basketball abilities were enough for him to transfer to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where he excelled on the court and became a three-time All-American while leading the NAIA in rebounds. During this time, he worked at a summer youth basketball camp where he befriended a fellow camper named Bryne Rich. Rodman was soon brought into Rich's home, while the family eventually became something of a surrogate family and helped him through college. Meanwhile, his prowess on the court attracted the attention of the Detroit Pistons, who drafted him in 1986 early in the second round. Joining the likes of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer, Rodman fit perfectly into coach Chuck Daly's hard-nosed style of play - opponents and critics called it dirty - and seamlessly integrated himself into the Pistons' famed "Bad Boy" team. Though initially coming off the bench, Rodman quickly established himself as an exceptional defensive player whose blocking and rebounding abilities helped establish Detroit as one of the NBA's most dominant teams. For his part, Rodman remained an off-the-bench player throughout the '80s, but eventually became a starter when injury to another player afforded him opportunity.
Always a big personality, Rodman's outward appearance remained fairly standard in the early part of his career - a sharp contrast to the borderline freakish style he adopted later in life. In fact, his only accoutrements at the time were the occasional word or name shaved onto the back of his head. Meanwhile, he won NBA championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990, and earned NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1990 and 1991. By this point, however, the Pistons were long in the tooth and were challenged by younger, stronger teams like the Bulls and the New York Knicks. Also at the time, his coach, mentor and surrogate father, Chuck Daly, retired and left Rodman bereft. Meanwhile, he married girlfriend and mother of his four-year-old daughter Annie Bakes in September 1992, though the marriage ended in divorce the following year. Rodman hit the first of numerous personal bottoms in February 1993 when - as he later described in his first autobiography Bad as I Wanna Be (1996) - he was found sleeping in his car with a loaded rifle. Rodman later confirmed that he was contemplating suicide, though the reasons for why remained unclear. Unhappy with his situation in Detroit, Rodman demanded a trade and was dealt to the San Antonio Spurs in late 1993.
It was with the Spurs that Rodman's flamboyance began to emerge. He began dying his hair multiple colors, starting with bleached blonde, pierced his nose and added several tattoos. On the court, he continued to display his impressive defensive skills, though it was becoming more routine for him to lash out against other players. Rodman was suspended two times for head-butting opposing players and was heavily fined for refusing to leave the court after being ejected for another infraction. In 1994, he began a brief two-month romance with pop queen, Madonna, and coincidentally or not, began cross-dressing in public at the time. His time with the Spurs was becoming more tumultuous even though he continued to win rebounding titles. During the 1994-95 season, Rodman refused to join the team following a contract dispute, only to suffer a shoulder injury that limited his playing time when he did finally return. At the end of the season, Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls, where he joined Michael Jordan, Scottie Pipen, et al., for an unprecedented playoff run that saw the team win three consecutive NBA Championships - the Bulls' second three-peat of the decade. Never one to shy from publicity, Rodman released his autobiography, Bad as I Wanna Be, and famously wore a wedding dress during public promotions, claiming that he was bisexual and "marrying himself."
Of course, Rodman's time with the Bulls was not without its many controversies. In 1997, while playing a regular season game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he tripped and fell over a photographer sitting out of bounds, and reacted by kicking the man in the groin. Rodman later settled with the cameraman for $200,000 and was suspended for 11 games by the league. Over the course of the season, he was plagued with further suspensions and a knee injury, leading to his ineffectual play during the playoffs even though the team won its second of three consecutive titles. During his suspension-plagued 1996-97 season, Rodman began a second career as a professional wrestler with World Championship Wrestling, joining friend Hulk Hogan for the newly minted New World Order stable. After the basketball season, he helped Hogan win back his heavyweight title with the aid of a baseball bat, fought Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone the following summer, and feuded with Randy "Macho Man" Savage in 1999. Of course, Rodman branched out beyond wrestling to star in movies, making the critically pained action thriller "Double Team" (1997) with Jean-Claude Van Damme, the straight-to-video action comedy "Simon Sez" (1999) alongside Dane Cook, and the skydiving actioner "Cutaway" (2000) with Tom Berenger and Stephen Baldwin.
In early 1999, Rodman was released by the Chicago Bulls and later joined the Los Angeles Lakers, only to be released after 23 games. Meanwhile, Rodman - who had married model and actress Carmen Electra in 1998 - was the subject of a domestic disturbance situation that led to both their arrests in 1999. The couple soon divorced that same year. Back on the court, Rodman was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, but over the course of just 12 games he was ejected twice and displayed erratic behavior that soon led to his release, thus ending his NBA career. A couple years later, he played with a few American Basketball Association teams like the Long Beach Jam and Tijuana Dragons, before joining the Torpan Pojats in Finland and the Brighton Bears in the United Kingdom. Rodman officially retired from professional basketball in 2006. Naturally, he did not slip away quietly, remaining very much in the public eye for good and ill. After becoming the commissioner of the Lingerie Football League in 2005, he made news for posing nude for PETA's ongoing ad campaign, "Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur." The following year, he appeared on the British version of "Celebrity Big Brother" (Channel 4/Channel 5, 2001- ), and caused a stir after his eviction by refusing the required interview which lead to him not being invited back for the series' reunion.
In 2009, Rodman appeared on Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), joining the contestants like Clint Black, Kloé Kardashian, Tom Green and eventual winner Joan Rivers. Rodman chose as his charity the Court Appointed Special Advocates, which advocates for abused and neglected children, but was fired from the show by Trump after five episodes due to copious amounts of onscreen drinking. Meanwhile, reasons for Rodman's routinely bizarre behavior throughout his career began to surface when he entered rehab in May 2008 for alcohol addiction, while a year later former coach Phil Jackson joined Rodman's family and friends for an intervention following the strange behavior he had displayed on "Celebrity Apprentice." The intervention followed years of legal troubles that included arrests for interfering with police in 2002, domestic violence against soon-to-be wife Michelle Moyer in 2003, driving drunk in Las Vegas in 2004, and another domestic violence arrest in 2008 following a night of heavy alcohol consumption. Though Moyer filed for divorce in 2004, the couple attempted several reconciliations until finally she severed ties for good in 2012. Meanwhile, Rodman joined the third season of "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" (VH1, 2008-12) and followed up with a second season appearance on "Sober House" (VH1, 2009- ), only to continue to display his disruptive, "look-at-me" behavior in public. In 2011, Rodman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, where he was introduced by Phil Jackson and delivered an emotional speech where he battled back tears while recounting his life and career.
By Shawn Dwyer