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No Country For Old Men | A Strange Life After Basketball

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My earliest memory of Dennis Rodman is also my favourite memory of Dennis Rodman.

It’s the third quarter of Game 6 in the 1996 Finals, and Rodman is being his prototypical self against Seattle. On one possession, he slithers his way under the rim, bullying Frank Brickowski like a child. He nabs an offensive rebound and puts it back in, turning around and sprinting up court like Usain Bolt, both arms in the air like he’s a victorious corporate stock photo.

It’s not over. The Sonics bring the ball up, but an errant pass is nabbed by Scottie Pippen. He leads a 3-on-2 break with Jordan and Rodman, and you already know who the defenders cover. Pippen tosses a late pass to Rodman, who flips up a horridly awkward reverse layup — no glass. It falls in, plus the foul, and the arms are in the air again.

Rodman didn’t start the game, but he willed it to its conclusion with nine points and 19 rebounds, including a Finals record 11 on the offensive glass. On defense, he poked and prodded at Shawn Kemp like a muscular tabby cat, infuriating him into a bad game.

Above all, he punctuated the Bulls’ fourth championship as a heroic x-factor, a story written by many teams since. He was Draymond Green without an offensive skill set, Shawn Marion without a jump shot. He was a fanatical weirdo, who never stopped pursuing the ball off the rim. Nobody before or since Rodman has cared so much about rebounds, the least sexy statistical element of basketball.

I was six years old watching those Finals. To this day, the ‘96 to ‘98 Bulls are my favourite team. Most of that is due to Jordan and Pippen, sure — but Rodman took the love affair to a different level. He was my weirdo, and he helped me first see the NBA for what it was — a league that welcomed eccentricity. Unlike other leagues which punish personality and embrace conformity, the NBA was different — if you could play, you can get away with being strange.

And yes, Dennis Rodman — and the story of his basketball life — is the epitome of strange.

A shy and introverted player from Southeastern Oklahoma State, Dennis Rodman was drafted as the third pick in the second round of the 1986 draft by Chuck Daly’s Detroit Pistons.

The fit is perfect in retrospect, but at the time, the quiet Rodman wasn’t necessarily fitting of the Bad Boys persona. Behind Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer, though, Rodman’s career (and mouth) quickly took off. Daly in particular played a huge role in Rodman’s growth on and off the basketball court. Rodman’s father had left him at a very young age, and grew up in a household with just his mom and two sisters. Chuck Daly became his father figure, and Rodman looked up to him thusly.

With the Pistons, Dennis would play some of his best ball. He was pivotal to the team’s two championships in 1989 and 1990, seeing his playing time increase after the trade of Adrian Dantley and the loss of Rick Mahorn. In 1990, he averaged 8.8 points and 9.7 rebounds and was awarded the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He had arrived in the league, but the road turned rocky as the Pistons fell off the summit.

After Chuck Daly resigned in 1993, Rodman contemplated suicide. Of all people, it was the recently-passed Craig Sager who initially talked him out of it. From the Washington Post:

The Times reported in October 1993 that “Rodman left a suicide note last February, and police later found him sitting in the parking lot at the Palace of Auburn Hills with a loaded rifle in the back of his truck.”

At the height of his struggle, Rodman disappeared and was considering killing himself when Sager tracked him down on the second floor of a Detroit strip club. “The Landing Strip,” Sager told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins earlier this year.

Rodman, Sager told SI, “had the gun. He was going to do it. I told him how stupid that would be.”

The intervention worked.

Rodman demanded a trade soon after and was dealt to the San Antonio Spurs, where his career and personality again blossomed.

In San Antonio, Rodman truly came out of his shell. He constantly found himself at odds with coaches, was suspended twice in 1994, and suffered a motorcycle accident that kept him out half the remaining season. He had a highly public affair with Madonna. He started to change his hair — from “Kanye” blonde to purple to rainbow and everything in between. Eventually, he was traded to Chicago for Will Perdue and cash.

We’ve already explored the height of what happens next. Rodman continued his eccentricities, but found a much more accepting voice in Bulls coach Phil Jackson. With the guidance of Zen — for whatever it’s worth — Phil let Rodman do whatever he want as long as he showed up.

Show up he did, becoming a defensive cog on the 72-10 Bulls in 1996, then successfully guarding and frustrating Karl Malone in the 1997 and 1998 Finals. In my other favourite Rodman moment, the two tripped each other all the way up the court on one possession in the ‘98 Finals. Malone had stooped to Rodman’s level, and the whole world knew who was coming away successful.

After the Bulls gutted their team in the summer of 1998, Rodman went off for unsuccessful stints with Los Angeles and Dallas in 1999 and 2000. His life away from basketball began in earnest, and that story — a sadder one — continues to this day.

My most recent memory of Dennis Rodman is his appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, and his trips to North Korea to play for Kim Jong Un.

His pursuit of headlines through the latter half of his basketball career, after a narrowly-avoided suicide attempt, continued with stunts like this. They increased in desperation — leaving many either uneasy or jumping off the bandwagon entirely.

It was easy to love Rodman when the weirdness was offset by a brilliant rebound, or a jump shot followed by a “who me?” shrug. Without basketball, it all felt rather sad.

The biggest constant in Rodman’s life these days is alcoholism. He’s entered rehab on multiple occasions since 2008, and his most recent legal troubles include a hit and run in November. His 2005 book title, I Should Be Dead By Now, seems more prophetic 12 years later — as a slow spiral appears to continue.

For me, though, it’s impossible not to think of Rodman as a basketball player first. I’m biased in that regard — I’m sure there’s a big chunk of the NBA-watching population that’s dismissed him by now, the basketball memories melting in the face of personal struggles.

Rodman, though, will always be a five-time champion. He’s a Hall of Famer, with one of the more memorable induction speeches in recent years. “I didn’t play to be famous,” he said. “What you see here is an illusion; I just love to be an individual that’s very colorful.”

Rodman’s goodbye to basketball was repentant, but unapologetic. He wants to be remembered the way we eventually will be — a strange player on a great team, the electric, eccentric personality that shows how accepting the NBA can be.

John is a sports writer hailing from the flat part of Canada. He's an editor and podcast host at SB Nation's Raptors HQ, with other sports work published in The Classical. As a freelance reporter, he's covered sports at every level in Winnipeg: from the NHL's Jets and CFL's Blue Bombers, to CIS basketball and hockey at both major universities. In his spare time, John writes too seriously about music and posts good-to-okay photography on Instagram.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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