Rodman has certainly won the respect of other top rebounders, both past and present. "His greatest asset is his energy level," says Michael Cage. "He's absolutely tireless. He is to rebounding what Jordan is to offense. If he's your man, you almost have to forget about scoring or helping on defense." Silas, now a Phoenix Suns assistant coach, sees a bit of himself in Rodman. "He's more physically talented than I was," Silas says, "but the way he watches the flight of the ball and anticipates where it will go is similar to what I used to do. The big thing, though, is desire. He just wants the ball more than the other guy."
That desire was the by-product of Rodman's pursuit of a place for himself when he arrived in the NBA as an obscure second-round draft choice out of Southeastern Oklahoma State. "When he first came into the league, he didn't think much of his offensive skills, and rebounding and diving on the floor were the ways for him to get minutes," says Daly. "When he saw how good he was at it, he really started to focus on it."
Indeed, when he is pursuing a ball, Rodman has no concern for his own welfare or anyone else's. During his seven years with Detroit at least one courtside spectator sued him when he accidentally trampled her while trying to keep a ball from going out-of-bounds. (The Pistons settled out of court.) And he once knocked a Detroit sportswriter unconscious when he ran over him while chasing a ball. As these examples show, there is no loose ball that he considers out of his reach, and every time a shot goes up, he believes the rebound will be his. It is revealing that when he describes where certain shooters' rebounds are likely to go, he does not mention the possibility that the shot will go in. "I expect every shot to miss," he says. "To me, every time the ball leaves a shooter's hand, I believe there's a rebound coming."
"He almost never concedes a rebound, " says Cage. "He knows if he can get even a finger on it and keep it alive, he's such a quick jumper that he'll have a chance to get it on the second or third jump." That second or third jump often comes while his opponent is still gathering himself to go up a second time. One of Rodman's greatest assets is that he is a pogo-stick jumper. Notes Toronto Raptors coach Brendan Malone, a Detroit assistant when Rodman was a Piston, "A lot of big guys have to dip their knees and drop their arms before they jump, and by that time Dennis has been in the air two or three times."
Moreover, Rodman is as quick a jumper in the fourth quarter as he is in the first, thanks largely to his remarkable physical condition. Rodman's 34-year-old body shows no signs of the wear and tear of 10 NBA seasons. He bounds up and down the court with a bounce in his stride that suggests he has more energy than he knows what to do with. "He's a Duracell battery," says Haley, Rodman's most vocal cheerleader. "The man doesn't even sweat." Rodman is a maniacal weightlifter, but surprisingly none of his weight work is designed to strengthen those spring-loaded legs, which Rodman believes are already powerful enough; he does ride stationary bicycles and climb on StairMasters.
It is mostly due to Rodman's presence that at week's end Chicago was outrebounding its rivals by an average of 6.9 per game; last season, the Bulls grabbed only one more rebound per game than their foes. But numbers don't do justice to the kind of psychological effect a rebounder like Rodman has on a game. "The only two guys I've ever seen who could dominate a game without scoring are Bill Russell and Dennis Rodman," says Brendan Malone. Rodman's offensive rebounds can be especially demoralizing to an opposing team that has finally forced the Bulls' potent offense into a missed shot. (Through Sunday, Rodman led the league in offensive boards, averaging 5.67.) "His tip-ins are sometimes amazing," says Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "On one play he was almost directly under the backboard, and he somehow tipped the ball so that it banked off the backboard and went into the basket. It was no accident. He's got tipping angles that amaze me."