This interview originally ran in the June 1997 issue of Playboy.
“T his will be your most difficult interview ever.” So said a friend who has prowled a few nights with the Chicago Bulls’ freaky forward. Three days later we agreed that hanging with Dennis Rodman, discussing his public and private self in hotel rooms, casinos and nightclubs, was difficult at time–times like sunup, for instance. It was also rewarding in unexpected ways.
Our weekend with Rodman began with a visit to his agent, Dwight Manley, one of the real-life models for Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire. Yes, Manley said, Dennis liked the idea of doing Playboy. And since he was serving an 11-game suspension for kicking a cameraman, he had some free time. But there would be ground rules. “Not rules so much as ways of approaching Dennis,” said Manley, as if he were discussing nitroglycerin. In the end, however, the Rodman rules were simple. First, Dennis does only and exactly what he wants. Might talk, might not. Meet him for dinner, hit a few nightclubs. If he offers to buy you a lap dance, you’re in.
Erratic? Expensive? Extremely, but any difficulty was a small price for quality time with the only cross-dressing, nose- and scrotum-pierced, best-selling millionaire author we know.
Rodman was born 36 years ago and grew up in the Oak Cliff projects of south Dallas. His father, Philander Rodman, abandoned the family when Dennis was three. Philander eventually moved to the Philippines, where he claims to have fathered 27 children. Dennis grew up with his disapproving mother, Shirley, and two younger sisters, Debra and Kim, who both played basketball better than he did. The girls became college all-Americans, while their big brother became a janitor and a thief.
After Shirley kicked her bad boy out of the house, Rodman was homeless. At 20 he was pushing a broom on the graveyard shift at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. One night he used a broom handle to pilfer 50 watches from a closed gift shop. He was jailed overnight and fired. Rodman hit bottom, then rebounded in a big way. He had grown almost 12 inches in a year. The clumsy high schooler who had never played a varsity game was now a force in neighborhood pickup games. Still, his coming-out party flopped. While averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds for Cooke County Junior College, Rodman flunked out.
Fortunately for today’s Bulls fans, as well as for MTV and the feather boa industry, an assistant coach at tiny Southeastern Oklahoma State University saw Rodman play that year. Soon Dennis was a hoops hero in Durant, Oklahoma.
From 1984 to 1986 he averaged 26 points and 15.6 rebounds for the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages. Rodman was a three-time NAIA all-American. Still, he says he was “a lost soul.” Durant had a population of 6000. It was 5999 white folks and him. Fortunately a local family had taken him in. James Rich, a mailman, his wife, Pat, and their 13-year-old son, Bryne, virtually adopted Rodman. Bryne, who had accidentally shot and killed his best friend on a hunting trip, had terrible nightmares and needed a friend. Dennis, at 22, needed a family. On his first night in the Rich home he left the couch and slept on a trundle bed in Bryne’s room.
Soon Rodman was milking cows and feeding chickens. Though he loved his foster family, he couldn’t escape outsider status. The Riches tried to accept their friend Worm (a nickname for the way he wiggled playing video games). Yet there was evil gossip in town. It got so bad that Pat was reluctant to go out in public with Dennis. Eventually they became a functional family, and the Riches filled a gap in Rodman’s life between the projects and the NBA, where he finally found the father he had been looking for.
In 1986 Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly risked the 27th pick of the NBA draft on the skinny no-name who became, at 25, the oldest rookie in the league. During the next two seasons Daly, a man Rodman almost worshiped, eased Dennis past All-Star Adrian Dantley into the starting lineup for the famed Bad Boy Pistons. In the 1988-1989 season, Rodman averaged 9.4 rebounds and Detroit swept the Lakers for the NBA title.
Detroit won another championship the next season. Rodman was the league’s defensive player of the year. He would soon lead the NBA in rebounding year after year; his 1991-1992 average of 18.7 rebounds was the best since Wilt Chamberlain led the league two decades earlier. But by 1993 Detroit’s title team was dismantled and Daly was eased out–betrayed by the club, Rodman thought.
One day that year, Detroit police found Rodman in his pickup truck at dawn. He had a loaded rifle next to him and said that he was contemplating suicide. Before long he had been traded to San Antonio, where his colorful mean streak started making news.
It was in Texas that Rodman started dyeing his hair. Next came tattoos and piercing, and he began making borderline nutty statements. The man who didn’t play much offense started giving plenty. He belittled Spurs coach Bob Hill, calling him Boner. He also expressed contempt for Spurs hero David Robinson, publicly questioning Robinson’s guts. He refused to help Robinson on defense and turned his back on team huddles. He started going AWOL. Rodman won the rebounding title both years in San Antonio, but in 1995 the Spurs gladly traded him to Chicago for Will Perdue.
That deal had a notable sidelight. Bulls stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have veto power on trades, but both agreed to welcome Rodman to Chicago. Though they remembered the 1991 playoffs, when Rodman shoved Pippen into the stands (leaving Pippen with a nasty gash on his face and Rodman with a $5000 fine), the Bulls’ scorers wanted the game’s best rebounder on their side.
Today, Pippen’s chin bears the scar of Rodman’s cheap shot. And Jordan can barely conceal his irritation with the Bulls’ antic antihero. Yet with all three of them in the lineup, there is little doubt the Bulls are the best team the game has ever seen.
Meanwhile, Rodman transcends his craft. It was news last year when Sports Illustrated suggested that he might be the best rebounder of all time. Wilt Chamberlain has disagreed. In turn, Rodman has challenged Wilt by attacking a statistic that means as much to both men as rebounds: sexual conquests. When the Stilt, boasted of having had sex with 20,000 women, Rodman wrote in his best-seller, Bad As I Wanna Be, that “Wilt Chamberlain lied out of his ass.” That was one of many naughty bits in the book that made the tattooed cross-dresser a crossover superstar. He also quoted Madonna’s pillow talk: “Are you going to eat my pussy first?” and “I want every drop of your come inside me.”
Then he acted hurt when she called him “disgusting.” Rodman is good at acting hurt. His book portrays him as something of an all-purpose victim: Nobody understands him, everybody wants a piece of him. And while some of his poor-Dennis pose is mere marketing–would anyone feel sorry for a happy millionaire?ºhis gripes sound sincere when you meet him.
For all his fame and his millions, Rodman carries a big chip on his tattooed shoulder. Yes, he has a big-budget action movie, Double Team, in theaters near you. He has his own show on MTV. He has a new book, Walk on the Wild Side, out to explain his innermost thoughts. Yet he insists that he is misunderstood. Maybe that’s what makes Dennis Rodman the most postmodern celeb of them all. He is everywhere, emptily. He is in your face in movies, TV, bookstores, video games, action figures and virtual reality, but he says you don’t really know him.
We sent Contributing Editor Kevin Cook to Las Vegas to get to know Rodman. He was joined by well-known Chicago businessman Bill Marovitz, who assisted Cook both as an interviewer and as a guide on some unique Rodmanesque adventures. Cook reports:
“We met in Las Vegas, where the scenery matches Rodman’s hair. I arrived at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, his Vegas headquarters, with time to spare, In fact, since it took Rodman about 28 hours to show up for our first talk, I had time to prepare a long list of questions.
"Those questions wound up on a disco floor somewhere. My first night with Dennis taught me that lists are useless with this guy. He may be the most nonlinear man I’ve ever met. You don’t need questions to talk with Dennis Rodman. Benzedrine, maybe. One does not sit with him. Instead you chase him, ride in limos and watch topless dancers with him, keep changing the subject until a topic sparks his interest. Going into this interview I expected him to be surly, but at two A.M., even after a few drinks, he was bright-eyed and funny, with a knack for metaphor that startled me.
"After a day of waiting I had hooked up with his crew for a ten P.M. dinner at the Mirage. Ten P.M. is the beginning of late for me, but for Rodman it’s the dawn of a night he intends to grab and squeeze like a stray rebound. That night, fresh of a standing ovation on Jay Lena’s Tonight Show, Rodman strode through the Mirage in furry tiger-striped pants and a leather shirt that showed off his muscled chest. His hair was the color of a lemon-lime Lava lamp. He lifted an eyebrow when his agent announced that I was there to do the Dennis Rodman ‘Playboy Interview.’ Rodman’s expression said, 'We’ll see about that.’
"During the next three days I would sleep a total of five hours. I would get to know the Rodman group, featuring Manley as well as Dennis’ weekend girlfriend. And wise Wendell Williams, Rodman’s 280-pound bodyguard, gave me the first quote I wrote down: 'Dennis isn’t crazy. Dennis is free.’ "Rodman is no ordinary chat. I didn’t so much converse with him as step into his stream of consciousness. "We began in his limo, zooming past the giant fountain at Caesars Palace.”
Rodman: Evel Knievel jumped a motorcycle over this fountain. That was so cool.
Is that your idea of celebrity?
You know how I see it? Not to be bigheaded, but shit, you can put me up there with Jim Morrison, fucking goddamn Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
They’re all dead.
They say Elvis is dead. I say, no, you’re looking at him. Elvis isn’t dead, he just changed color.
You’re in Chicago Bulls colors tonight–a floor-length red jacket and black shirt.
No. This coat is not red. It’s hot pink. I am a multicolored individual. A different color every day. They call me the Worm, but that’s wrong. I’m the fucking chameleon.
Why is America paying you so much attention?
I give them a little thrill, all the people who forgot that life is fun. It’s like The Phantom of the Opera–it might scare them, but they like it. But it’s just a fad. I’m a fad. I am on fire right now, dude, but it won’t last forever.
Are you more comfortable in public or in private?
[As his entourage streamed through the casino at the Rio Suite Hotel, all eyes followed the towering, pink-coated Rodman. Whether he was gambling or on the move, his only protection was bodyguard Williams, who gently turned away autograph seekers. One girl got to Dennis by pleading, actually going to one knee as she cried, “Please! It’s my bachelorette party.” With a nod to his bodyguard–"It’s OK"–Rodman allowed the girl to kiss him. and she raced down an aisle of slot machines, yelling, “I kissed Dennis Rodman! I kissed Dennis Rodman!”
We sat in Club Rio at a table soon littered with empty shot glasses and beer bottles. The star seemed momentarily bored. There were two autograph hunters nearby; Rodman pointed to me as if trying to impress them.]
[To the fans] No autographs. Doing an interview here.
Does all the hubbub ever bother you?
[Nodding, calling for a round of drinks] I was in this club and when I went up to dance, everybody stopped dancing. They stood there watching me. I sat back down.
How do you relax?
Spend time with people who have a good time. The people you see in my limo. Fuckers who are fun. People who P-A-R-T-Y! Why party? Because I can. [He hugs his female companion.] This is fun right here. When you are in Dennis Rodman’s clan you celebrate the living of life. So once I’m with people I like, I relax. Because I know there’s people out there who want to fuck me.
No, I don’t mean literally want to fuck me. There are assholes who don’t like me.
Including the NBA?
I fuck up the NBA image, their whole business enterprise. Because I can express myself as an individual. In their high-society sport, I bring it from the heart.
You are known for your court sense–for anticipating what’s going to happen next on the floor. Can you do that with trends, too? Did you plan the Rodman fad?
My things are never planned. I visualize, I focus and analyze, but I’m always in the here and now. Once I learned to be myself, to express myself, the rest just happened. And now I’m in the atmosphere. I am the reality. I’m Elvis, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead all wrapped into one. The president of the United States gets a hard-on just thinking about me.
Supposedly that doesn’t take much.
His wife was on TV, joking around that she was “Hillary Rodman Clinton.” Now, I always thought you had to have sex with a person before you took his name. So maybe she was thinking about it. I can see them in bed, the president’s making love and she’s saying, “Oh, oh, Dennis–I mean, Bill!”
What else amuses you about your fad?
My life is a circus. My year is 365 days of fucking confusion. But I’m still leading in rebounding, 600-plus rebounds in only 30-some games. Nothing is planned. My life is more addictive. But I love it. I keep Lucifer wondering, What will he do next? Will he really play his last game in the nude?
Michael Jordan told us he’s against any such thing.
It’ll happen. You’ll see it.
Some people call you the world’s weirdest athlete.
I’m not an athlete. Athletes are boring, typical and predictable. I can’t even watch them talk on TV. You know, the scene after the game.
They’re all putting the team first and giving 110 percent.
Save it. The difference between me and athletes is, they want to be athletes. They even want to be coaches when their careers are over. I am above all that. But still, I have my downfall every year. Some little thing blows up on me. A couple years ago I head-butted a ref and got suspended. This year it was kicking that cameraman motherfucker, Eugene Amos.
Amos is a courtside photographer. You plowed into him trying to save a loose ball. What made you kick him?
It was a trigger reaction. Can’t I have a bad day? It’s like you coming home from work. Maybe you’ve been working hard, focusing hard all day, you come home and your wife sits there bitching about the smallest fucking thing. Something triggers in the brain and you might lash out.
Should Amos have been there? In other sports the press isn’t allowed to be so close to the action.
We need more room. The cameras they use today can shoot pictures of you from the moon, so why are they right up on the court? I could have broken my leg running into him and his camera. I think they should be at least two or three feet back.
Amos dropped charges against you after you paid him a handsome settlement. How did that work? Did you have a meeting?
It was a telephone call. He sounded like a politician. “Thank you very much,” he said, “and God bless.” Then I see on the news, just last week–Eugene Amos got arrested for beating his girlfriend.
Vindication in a way. It shows you that life has its wacky ways of working out.
Maybe Amos should give your $200,000 to his girlfriend.
He should give it back to my ass.
Speaking of numbers, you state that Wilt Chamberlain lied when he claimed he’d had sex with 20,000 women. But you have never mentioned your own career total.
In my whole life I have had between 25 and 30 women. Maybe five good ones.
You wrote in your book that you were still a virgin at 20.
Well, I’m making up for lost time. My hormones run wild like the fever of typhus, baby.”
Why such a late start?
When you live in the community I was in, with no money, and you’re not good-looking. I didn’t have shit. Never went to the school prom. I didn’t even like girls. Look, when you are just a motherfucking guy in the neighborhood trying to survive, it’s not a sexual environment.
“Not good-looking”? Is that what you think when you look in the mirror?
I don’t look at mirrors. I’m too fucking ugly.
We could easily round up 100 women who would jump at the chance to sleep with you tonight.
I just don’t like mirrors.
Is it true that you were so asexual you didn’t masturbate until you were 19?
That’s right. But the first time, I was already an expert. Just about jerked the head off it. [He mimes wrestling afire hose.]
You’ve said you try to be faithful to whomever your current girlfriend may be. If she’s not in town you sometimes satisfy yourself. You even gave your hands sexy names.
Monique and Judy. In case I get frustrated and confused, I always know they can help my ass out. If Monique gets tired, turn to Judy.
Not everyone is so candid about masturbating.
Masturbation happens 1.6 billion times a day. Every man and woman does it. It’s like the wildfires of California, baby, so we may as well say it.
[By now we had changed venues again. We were at a club called Drink and Eat Too. Even louder than the Rio, it was jammed with drinkers, dancers and Rodman-watchers. The watchee stood in a corner behind the bar, which was a step above the floor. From there he peered impassively down at all the faces upturned toward him. We had given up our talk for the night; Drink was too loud. Then Rodman shouted, “Reporter, reporter!” We were under way again.]
You say your goal in life is freedom, being free of society’s rules or even those of the NBA. When do you feel free?
Tell us more. What do you want in bed?
I want a woman who’s free. That means she’s independent and desirable. I could use some independence in a woman, too. Usually when I have sex I am in control, I’m dominant, but I’d like some woman to get on top of me and be in control for half an hour, do me for a half hour. Then we’d be even.
What makes a man good in bed?
Confidence. He should be confident in his dick. And eat pussy big-time, too. Go down under and have a fucking groundhog for lunch, that’s my advice.
Yet you wouldn’t do that with Madonna.
That was a flash in the past. Can we leave Madonna alone? She’s a good woman. I hope she gets what she wants.
That was gallant. OK, let’s talk about your job. How does today’s NBA compare with the league of ten years ago, when you were a rookie?
It’s going downhill. The younger players have a whole different vibe, a different game. Some are big stars before they even play in our league, and right away they want to be more famous. Everyone wants to shoot. Everybody wants to be a big fucking star. But there are only about 20 real stars, and maybe four shining stars, in the league. Maybe one ultimate star.
Jordan? Or you?
Who cares? I just rack and roll.
You said four shining stars. Name them.
No, you name them. Go ahead. Knock yourself out.
Jordan, Shaq, you and Little Penny.
I don’t care. I don’t like the whole athlete phenomenon.
Hasn’t it made you rich? Tonight we watched you playing blackjack and craps with $1000 chips. You must have had $30,000 in front of you.
I’ve got between $25 million and $50 million, and I fucking E.F. Huttoned it, dude. I earned it.
I don’t ask people to look up to me. Nobody in the world is a role model except to his own kids. People think athletes are role models, but they’re wrong.
You got the money and three championship rings for being a great rebounder, the one who’s famous for how much he studies the game. Even your critics say you might have the best court sense since Magic Johnson. Chamberlain was bigger and possibly better, but aren’t you the thinkingest rebounder?
I study my craft. I can visualize the court, the ball and the action on the rim all at once. Never the other player. I think the game, not the people in it.
When you joined Chicago you spent hours in the gym rebounding for Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Studying. Programming my mind. I study the people who shoot the ball. The way they like to shoot, where the ball likes to come off when they miss–you get a feel for it. Then when the game starts I can let my mind relax and go into that feel, the flow of the game. It’s like rolling dice. Sometimes you get a feel for the dice. You can feel a seven coming. The ball is funny like that; I’ll watch the ball–even watching a game on TV–and know if it’s going off to the right or to the left.
Do you think teenagers such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal know their craft?
They’re not here just because somebody said they were good, are they? They have real talent. They had the feeling, now they have to show us they’re that good. I think they can do it, but they haven’t yet.
Are younger players worth what they’re getting paid?
Paying players $90 million is ridiculous. Even $30 million–think of the lifetimes people work to get that much money. If you’re going to pay players $90 million, I say they should run the team. Get out of the way. But if you are going to pay this ridiculous money, pay the players who are worth it. Not the ones who haven’t done it yet. Pay the ones who win. Pay the ones who are out there giving you 110 percent every night.
People might be surprised to hear Dennis Rodman complain about overhyped NBA players.
Fine, but you know what? I am about to do something that has never been done in the history of sport. Before next season I am going to sign a $9 million or $10 million contract and tell the team, “If I’m not worth it, don’t pay me. If I don’t play up to that contract, keep the money.” I’ll play the whole year for free.
Do you mean that?
This is a pledge you’re making here tonight?
It is. I’m already giving money back. When I come off suspension, I’m giving my pay to charity for the first 11 games. That’s a million dollars.
Does it sting to be suspended–kicked out of the game for a month?
It gave me time to clear my head. Sometimes my life is so fucked up I don’t know what’s happening to me. I need time.
You’re no longer part of Nike’s ad roster, are you?
So I have no Nike deal. Nike is a swoosh in the past.
The league has threatened serious action if you misbehave again. There has been talk of a lifetime ban. Pippen says you learn nothing from all your crime and punishment. Will you be more careful?
No. If I fuck up, I fuck up. I live in the here and now, and I am not dead yet. But if I die tomorrow, I’ll die with a smile on my face.
Suppose you punch a coach tomorrow. Could you smile at a life-time ban?
That won’t happen. They will never do that. I am too much of a hot commodity. The NBA won’t say goodbye to me. They need me. The NBA is a cripple and I am the crutch. Ha! They tell me to act like a typical athlete, but they are playing both sides of the fence. I get attention. They profit off me. But I am jiving those fogies and they can’t do a damn thing about it.
The Bulls reportedly ordered you to tone it down. How did that work? Did coach Phil Jackson or owner Jerry Reinsdorf call you in?
They don’t talk to me. In a sense they want to control me, but they really want me to go out in the games and do my thing.
You loved Chuck Daly, your first pro coach. Then his championship team was dismantled. Daly was bounced and you were traded.
Chuck Daly was a loving, caring man who let you be a man. We won championships. It was a phase I went through.
Are you a role model?
No. I don’t ask people to look up to me. Nobody in the world is a role model except to his own kids. People think athletes and entertainers are role models for kids, but they’re wrong. Kids today have more options than we ever had. They don’t need me to show them. These kids are 15 years old, partying their asses off. Every day is Woodstock. But I do ask people to respect the individuality I bring to the table.
You are a role model for individualists.
People say they don’t want our young black kids looking like Dennis Rodman. I’m not asking for that. If it’s what they choose, that’s their business.
Do you want to be back with the Bulls next year?
Do you care whether Jackson coaches next year?
It’s important. You need to have confidence in a coach. I need a good vibe. I call Phil Jackson Lord of Lords–he is psychic. I have had two great coaches in my life, Chuck Daly and Phil Jackson. I don’t want any more coaches.
If you were uncool enough to coach, what team rules would you have?
Show up for the game. Don’t jive my ass. That’s all you need.
Are you friends with Michael Jordan?
I told you I don’t give a fuck about anybody in the NBA. I don’t hang with athletes. Hanging with Michael Jordan is supposed to be big news? Please.
You trashed some stars in your book: David Robinson is gutless, Pippen can be intimidated. How did they react?
They didn’t. I think they respected me for being myself.
Talk about a few of your colleagues. How would you describe Michael Jordan?
He’s an intriguing, special performer.
A major star in his own world.
The Reggie White of the NBA.
Do you think NBA commissioner David Stern would like to kick you out of the league?
I don’t give a damn what David Stern thinks. He’s not my fucking father. I don’t care what Stern thinks, but I’ll tell you what he thinks. He thinks I’m good for the league. David Stern is a closet Dennis Rodman fan.
Daly is often called your father figure. The same goes for James Rich, the Oklahoma mailman who took you into his home. Have you been looking for a father since Philander Rodman left when you were three years old?
I don’t think that’s true.
How did you manage without one?
I got used to it. Anyway, a man can’t make you be a man. You have to do that yourself. You figure out that life is unpredictable and complicated and that you may not be happy. That’s when you become a man.
Your father finally wrote to you last year. He sent you a letter from the Philippines.
I didn’t get it.
After 32 years, he said he wanted to meet you.
He tried to. To me he’s just another person trying to get a piece of the action. I don’t hate the guy, but hey, I made it without him for all these years. If I met him I’d treat him like anybody else–like the people in the casino who want an autograph. After I got through with everybody else I would shake his hand, too, and say, “How you doing? Nice to meet you.”
And move on.
Like your vindication with the photographer. What goes around–
Is it true that you were so shy as a kid that you had to be pushed off the school bus?
I wasn’t really who I am until later. I was shy. I had the same feelings as the other kids, but on the outside I was just going through the motions. Other kids don’t give you the option of being happy, being yourself.
Did you ever try religion?
Went to church every Sunday until I was 21. I grew up Christian, Baptist, but I could be it all. I do believe in a holy spirit. I don’t think you need to go to church to pray. That almighty spirit is everywhere. God is out there working.
Does he or she have a special plan for you?
No. I have no purpose at all. I mean, we can always pray to the holy spirit to whisk us away and make everything better, but who knows if that prayer gets there? It’s only a mirage.
It’s probably safe to say that your God isn’t some bearded giant wearing a white robe.
Maybe white robes and a boa?
Who knows? He might have on a thong.
There is a bit of your legend that doesn’t make sense–your theft of 50 watches when you were a janitor at DFW airport. Everyone in the airport can see the security cameras all around. Didn’t you know you would be caught?
Maybe I did it to get caught. Sometimes in life you have to light some dynamite, see if it blows up.
In a bid for popularity, you gave free watches to almost everyone you knew.
I didn’t need popularity. But I didn’t need that many watches, and I didn’t take them to sell them. It was more to try something different, see what happens.
You must have felt alone the night you spent in jail. What was it like in an airport jail?
It’s a holding pen. They handcuff you. You sit and wait until the police come pick you up and take you to real jail.
Before you finally found basketball stardom at Southeastern Oklahoma State, the James Rich family took you in. You befriended teenager Bryne Rich after he killed a friend in a hunting accident, and you lived with the Riches almost as a son.
Bryne is still my best friend. We were a couple of lost souls. For us, life was fucking confusion plus a bunch of goddamn agony. You just hoped for some part-time happiness once in a while.
What do the Riches think of your celebrity?
They’re not starstruck. Or they don’t show it. One thing about people in Oklahoma, they don’t show what they’re thinking.
Did you dream of playing in the NBA?
Basketball wasn’t my dream. I never considered it.
No posters of Chamberlain or Bill Russell?
If I had been like that, I wouldn’t be here now. No, I didn’t want to be in the NBA. But I always had an idea something was going to happen to me. It didn’t start until I was over 30 years old and learned to express myself.
You were 31 when Detroit police found you sleeping in your truck outside the Palace in Auburn Hills. You had a loaded rifle with you. You have said you were thinking of killing your-self. Instead, you decided to change your life.
That was the beginning of salvation. I was 32 years old before I found out who I really am. From then on I just did it, whatever it was.
Soon came the tattoos, nose rings and wild hair.
If not for that I would have been more subdued, just an athlete. But I’m having my childhood again from zero to 20. Right now I might be five years old.
[Soon the Rodman party was in the limo to Paradise, a nightclub where Dennis bought more rounds of drinks. He handed his Peruvian surfer friend, Pepe, a fistful of $1000 chips for safekeeping–the bulge in Pepe’s pocket easily held $20,000 in chips. Paradise is a gentlemen’s club, a lap-dance joint. No touching; topless women writhe to disco music a half inch from men who pay to be teased. Dennis, who had already bought numerous drinks and flagons of coffee, offered to buy another round–not drinks this time, but lap dances.]
Thanks, but no thanks.
Come on. Just because you’re married?
Your wife ain’t God, man! She can’t see through walls.
[He playfully shoved us toward a dancer. Without thinking we shoved back. As bodyguard Williams shot us a glance it occurred to us: Had we just missed a chance to earn a quick $200,000? Once again, much of our subsequent talk was shouted over pounding disco music. Sometimes D, as his friends call him, was being “lapped” as we spoke.]
How many of the breasts here are all-natural?
I’d say 40 percent. What are you drinking? Let’s get three more Jägers over here.
Jägermeister–the shot-glass drink of champions. You have had more than a few tonight. How can you drink so much and still perform so well on the court?
What the fuck did you say?
Do you have a hangover cure?
There is no such thing as a hangover cure.
How can you drink so much and be so fit?
I’m talking to you, right? I am on fire! This will be a great interview for you. Because I prepared my mind, bro. I can prepare my mind to party or do business. I can do both. Now, I don’t party like this during the season, at least not every day. You have to pick your times. There are times when you need to do business, be physically inclined, do your job. That’s when I do business first and party later.
Are you ever alone?
Game days I keep to myself.
Your workouts are grueling. You’ll lift weights for two hours before a game, then run the court and tussle with some of the world’s finest athletes, then pump iron for two more hours before you shower. Is that how you get the alcohol out? How much weight do you lift in a day?
I can lift what the mind can endure.
What thoughts do you have when the ball is in play? Are you thinking in words?
It’s a melody, brother. No matter what the tempo of the game, it’s always a melody.
Off the court, can you control yourself?
[Shrugs] Sometimes I don’t know what the fuck is going on. I don’t. I really don’t want to do some of the things I do.
What’s taboo to you? Anything?
I don’t believe in limits. Killing yourself is the only limit.
Bob Knight thinks you’re a fake. He calls you “the greatest hustler in the history of mankind.”
He said hustler?
Then call me Mr. Flynt! I’ll be the number one hustler.
You wrote that there was a surge in AIDS awareness among NBA players after Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive.
Then it went back to the way it was. Athletes are like anybody else. They might plan to use a rubber, but then it doesn’t feel right, so they take it off.
Doesn’t every team have an AIDS meeting–some doctor or therapist coming in to tell all the players to use condoms?
That lasts about 15 minutes.
How much NBA sex do you think is safe sex?
It’s probably about 50-50.
Are we headed for a scourge of AIDS among pro athletes?
Why blame the athletes? Athletes didn’t start the idea of fucking without condoms. They aren’t role models and they don’t set a goddamn precedent for society. Don’t point to the athletes–they’re just like anybody else.
Except for being young and rich and having lots of women begging them for sex.
Wear you out.
What if you learned you were HIV-positive? How would you react?
What can anyone do? Anybody who has it, what can you do but blame yourself?
Such a sad topic. We should try to lighten up. Tell us what you think is your best color.
Girls that are white. I like pink, too. The pink and white clouds of love.
What’s your best feature?
Best feature? Muscle control. Talk about muscle control–"Oh, oh daddy!“ It makes for the best fucking around.
You have women chasing you from coast to coast. GQ says you might be our greatest "vulva magnet.” Is that a heavy reputation to carry around? Can you live up to your image as a sexual performer?
I don’t see it like that. I don’t have to prove myself.
You imply in your book that you sometimes fake in bed.
You say that sometimes you yell and shout to make the woman you’re with feel good about her performance.
Look, I have sex a lot. Sometimes it’s just going through the motions. I’ve faked. Women are always faking that shit–I’m just flipping the coin.
Another example of your versatility. You have also made headlines by wearing makeup and dressing in drag. Many people believe you’re gay or bisexual, though you have never admitted having a gay experience. What’s the current state of your sexuality?
I wouldn’t be ashamed to say I was gay. I’m the first to say I would fuck a man’s brains out. Giving it or getting it, taking or giving, don’t matter–it’s all about getting that sensation you want. And on that day I want to fuck a man, I’ll announce it. I’ll make sure everyone in the world knows I’m gay.
But you haven’t actually done it yet.
I mentally masturbate. I have sex in my mind. It happens all the time.
Are you attracted to men?
We all have a little homosexual in us. We pat each other on the ass. We kiss. I kiss transsexuals. If I think a guy is attractive I can tell him, “You are a beautiful motherfucker.” I’ll hug him and kiss him.
If you kiss a man in friendship, does it matter if he’s good-looking?
What does your mother think when she sees you in makeup and a gown?
She doesn’t care. She’s got a new house.
Do you ever wear women’s clothing in private?
I wear it once in a while. It shows that I am not just an athlete. It shows that I’m not afraid of society. I’m unconventional.
You don’t really have a gay streak, do you?
I have done a lot for the gay community. I make it more acceptable. I am an entertainer, a phenomenon and a historical landmark.
You say you don’t mind fantasizing about gay sex, but you always stop short of actually doing it.
Sex should be a mystery. You need some mystery to it. You don’t have that if everybody’s the same. And if that’s not true then everybody would be gay and lesbian, wouldn’t they?
[We finished on Sunday in his penthouse suite at the Mirage, high above the special-effects volcano. Rodman was shirtless, stretching, just waking up for breakfast. It was four P.M. Rodman’s female companion, Chicago businessman Bill Marovitz and bodyguard Williams were watching the NBA All-Star Game on TV. Rodman watched, but looked bored. He said the All-Star Game is over-hyped. Forty-eight hours before his return to the court, Rodman spoke softly.]
When was the last time you were alone?
When I sleep, I’m alone.
Your agent, Dwight Manley, tells us that you sleepwalk. He’ll be sleeping on the couch in your house or a hotel suite when you lumber out, push him aside and lie down.
No, no. That was kidding around.
But you do sleepwalk?
Sometimes. Everybody does.
That’s not true.
Yes, you do it. Everybody sleepwalks once in a while.
Other than partying, have you prepared for the season’s second half?
My mind is ready.
Do you have anything planned for your return?
Be in fucking character, that’s it. When the camera is on, the shows begin.
You say you’ll give your salary back next year if your performance doesn’t measure up. Who decides whether you were good enough?
You say you don’t plan ahead, but it sounds like you have all the bases covered. Is Bob Knight right about you?
They say I’m either a genius or the most stupid, illiterate motherfucker in the world. Some people call it clever. Do you know what I call it? Brilliant. I call it brilliant. Wile E. Coyote, that’s me. Wile E. Coyote.
It pays for me and my child.
You don’t see your daughter much.
Alexis, she’s going on nine. She’s my role model. She’s so beautiful. You know what breaks my heart? Seeing her so shy. All the kids talk behind her back. Even at the private school she goes to, she can’t escape being my daughter. We talk on the phone and she says, “Daddy, I don’t want to go to school.” It’s making me more sheltered. This fucking image of mine–sometimes I can’t deal with it. I have two veins keeping me going–my emotion and my little girl.
You were a shy kid.
I’m still shy, brother. Watch me with Jay Leno. He’ll ask something personal and I’ll look down at the ground. I can’t look up. I saw Jimi Hendrix on an old Dick Cavett show; he did the same thing. He was shy. Now I see Alexis doing that same look.
How often do you see your daughter?
I don’t see her. My ex-wife has her. I have a stupid-ass ex-wife writing a book full of bullshit. We were married only 82 days, but now that I have a little pocket money, she thinks, I’ll get rich off his fame. I’m like O.J. Everything I do, people want to make money off it.
Do you attempt to see your daughter?
I may have to get lawyers to get me the right to see her. I’d spend all the money it takes. And before I ever have another kid, I want to give my all to Alexis.
Do your family problems make you cynical?
No. They make me real. I accept them and go on.
What contact do you have with Annie, your ex-wife?
I call her and ask for Alexis.
Do you think men and women can learn to get along?
Of course not.
Do you want to get married again?
It’s hard to go on a scavenger hunt. It’s hard to tell who is real and who’s only after your money. I had a girl sue me for giving her herpes, which I didn’t do.
Do you believe in marriage?
I think something happens when you get married. Maybe you made love to your wife before, but it’s not the same because now you have to. And you can really make love to the same person only so many times; after that you just go through the motions. You’re just fucking. You can make love to a girlfriend. You make love to your girlfriend and your standbys because you don’t want to lose them, but you have got to fuck your wife.
Last basketball question. Do you have any responsibility to the NBA?
The NBA can kiss my ass. That’s their responsibility.
Are you misunderstood?
I’m not crazy. I am not Hannibal Lecter. That’s the shock of Dennis Rodman if you get to know me–I’m very calm. I am a tidal wave of calm and I’m right here [pointing to his eyes], looking at you