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9.11.2008

Rebounding and Rodman

Rodman simultaneously has reduced rebounding to a science while elevating it to an art. He talks dispassionately about angles and trajectories in the locker room, but on the floor he pursues the basketball with passion. After winning a battle for the ball, he will cradle it like a baby, or look at it quizzically as if seeing it for the first time, or whip it quickly to a teammate as though it were some disgusting object. "I rebound with a little flair, a little something extra," he says. "It's not for the crowd, it's just for me. Rebounding is how I express myself on the floor."

He turns back to the TV, switching from the tape of the Bulls-Hawks game to one showing the Heat against the Magic. He is most interested in tonight's opponent, Miami, but he can't help noticing Orlando center Shaquille O'Neal. "Most shots rebound long, to the opposite side, but Shaq's ball is flat, so if he shoots the ball from the side, it's usually going to come back to that same side and quickly," Rodman says. "It'll come off the rim hard, so it will be a long rebound. But take somebody like [Chicago guard] Steve Kerr. He has a high arc on his shots, so I know his rebounds are either going to go straight up or off to the opposite side. Either way, they're going to be pretty close to the rim."

Rodman is warming to the subject now, never taking his eyes off the screen as he talks. "I know shooters, but that's not enough," he says. "You have to watch the flight of the ball. Most guys see the shot go up and they turn and look at the rim, waiting for the ball to come off. I watch the ball in the air and make an adjustment if I need to." When Rodman was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Bulls in October, he immediately made a habit of rebounding for Pippen and Jordan during practices as they warmed up so he could get a feel for the caroms that came from their shots. "Most of the time Mike's shots tend to come off to the right of the rim, no matter where he shoots it from, but I don't just take that for granted," Rodman says. "I watch his shot in the air, and I can tell if it's off-line to the left or short, and then I go where I think I need to be."

A typical Rodman game would not be instructional-video material. He takes liberties with the fundamentals, sometimes deciding not to box his man out and instead moving to the spot where he anticipates the rebound will come. His relatively slender build works to his advantage here, because he seems to be able to slip through cracks between players. Like a good outfielder, Rodman appears to get a jump on the ball, moving while the ball is still in the air. Because of that ability, Charlotte Hornets vice president of basketball operations Bob Bass, who held the same job with San Antonio when Rodman joined the Spurs, compared him to Willie Mays.

And if Rodman guesses wrong, he has the ability to adjust quickly. "Dennis can jump at an angle, which is not as easy as it might sound," says Bulls television analyst Johnny (Red) Kerr, who averaged double figures in rebounds for eight straight seasons in the 1950s and '60s with the Syracuse Nationals and the Philadelphia 76ers. "Most guys are straight-up jumpers, but Dennis can adjust his body in the air to get to a ball. The only other player I've seen who could do that was Russell."

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