9.11.2008

I'm Glad Rodman Never Snared 50

The Rodman paradox is that he can look as though he is barely in control of his emotions on the court, on the edge of some outburst, when he is in fact coolly processing information. He is taking into account who the shooter is, the area on the court from which the shooter is firing, the trajectory of the ball, the positioning of his opponents and the percentages, which indicate that most shots will rebound long and to the opposite side of the basket from which they were launched. "People think I just go get the damn ball, because they don't take the time to really look at what I do," he says. "Rebounding isn't brain surgery, but there's more to it than being able to jump higher than the next guy. A lot of the work is done before you ever even jump."

Some of that work is best done away from the referees' gaze. Like every successful rebounder, Rodman has certain tricks he uses to help him gain an advantage. "They're not tricks, they're techniques," he says. He particularly likes to pin his opponent's arm between his own arm and his body, making it impossible for the opponent to jump. He gets called for this fairly often but not nearly as often as he gets away with it. "He's pretty active with his hands," says Cleveland Cavaliers center-forward Michael Cage, who led the league in rebounding in 1987-88. "He'll give you a little nudge in the small of the back just as you're getting ready to jump." When Rodman has inside position, he sometimes crouches down and leans back into his opponent until he is virtually sitting on the other man's thigh, which tends to keep the opponent anchored to the floor. "There might be a couple of other little things I do," he says. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." Somehow, you believe him.

If Rodman has not revolutionized rebounding, he has at least glamorized it, making the slam-dance under the basket seem like fun when it is in fact grueling, often brutal work. His rebounding skill is what makes it impossible to dismiss him as just an attention-seeking eccentric. "People buy into the image of Dennis as this kind of impulsive flake," says Kerr. "But there's so much more to him than that. He's exceptionally smart and hardworking. It's just that those qualities are harder to spot than the hair colors and the tattoos." That's not to say that Rodman doesn't care about being noticed. "I had dinner with him about a month ago," says Daly. "He said to me, 'You know, I was the best defensive player and the top rebounder in Detroit, and nobody knew who I was. That's why I decided to do some things a little differently.'"

If he ever fulfills his goal of getting 50 rebounds in a game (Chamberlain's 55 are the NBA single-game record), Rodman may do something really different. He has said that his fantasy is to grab number 50, then strip off his uniform and run off the floor naked. Haley no doubt speaks for many when he says that "is something I truly hope I never have to see."

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