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His Dye Is Cast : Rodman Has Been a Bad Boy, With Madonna (and Jack Haley?) and He Still Loves to Shock Us

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack and Dennis, two American kids growing up in the heartland. . . .

Jack Haley was a rich kid from Seal Beach. He didn’t play team sports in high school because he didn’t like them. Besides, he wasn’t very good at them. Instead, he surfed in the summer and skied in the winter. After discovering basketball, he married a UCLA cheerleader and started a family.

Dennis Rodman was a poor kid from Dallas. He was a janitor at the airport until he was caught stealing watches from the gift shop, whereupon his mother threw him out of the house. After discovering basketball, he became a famous outlaw. His marriage to a model with her own share of tattoos blew up. He had a romance with Madonna that ended after he turned down her pleas to get married.

Jack and Dennis are best friends.

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Not just guys who discover things in common despite their differences, but hang-out-everywhere buddies.

It took more than that to get Dennis on board, but today he’s a superstar again, the San Antonio Spurs are a power with a two-game lead over the Lakers in the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals, and two men have learned the most important lesson of all: We’re all alike, somehow.

“People think of Dennis as nuts,” Haley says. “If you talk to most of the guys on the team, they’ll tell you the reason we get along is, I’m the crazy one.”

It’s true. A weird light shines in Haley’s eyes, a hint of the burning desire that carried him to an improbable career, a yearning that shy, suspicious Dennis Rodman could recognize.

At first Rodman treated Haley as any other Spur--as if he wasn’t there. The Spurs tell of the night Terry Cummings, at a steakhouse with his family, saw Rodman eating alone. Cummings went over and asked if Dennis would like to join them.

Rodman never looked up.

When Haley introduced himself, Rodman looked right through him. Another time, Haley got on a hotel elevator with Rodman and invited him to dinner. The elevator descended to the lobby, and Rodman got out without replying.

“So after that,” Haley says, “I kinda threw in the towel, basically. The hell with this guy.”

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But Rodman respected Haley’s kamikaze practice style. When Dennis worried that statisticians were cheating him out of rebounds. Jack began charting them for him. Next thing anyone knew, they were talking about the game.

The Haleys went out with Rodman and a date. Dennis took them to a gay bar. Jack refused to act shocked. After that, they were more than buddies. Haley was Rodman’s lifeline.

“We’re so close,” Haley says. “Dennis went to management and said, ‘From now on, we want a two-bedroom suite on the road.’ I told him, ‘No, that’s a little too close. . . .

“He’s a puppy dog. It’s crazy. When we’re on the road, Dennis spends 90% of the time when we’re in the hotel sitting on the end of my bed.

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“I’m like, ‘It’s time to go to sleep.’ He’s like, ‘Fine, I’m just going to hang here for a while.’ He’s like a piece of Velcro, he’ll attach to you.”

It isn’t easy befriending outlaws. When Rodman is estranged from the team, as he was when the new management team set out to quash his rebellion last fall, Haley, the Spurs’ version of Bill Usery, is caught between intractable forces.

For the moment, though, everybody’s happy. Who knows? Maybe this time it will stay that way.

THE MADONNA FACTOR

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A legend’s

Only a lonely boy

When he goes

Home alone.

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--CARLY SIMON

It’s mid-season and the Spurs have just beaten Orlando before more than 35,000 on Rodman’s tip-in at the buzzer, which he got by sealing off 300-pound Shaquille O’Neal. Dennis, wearing a baseball cap backward, having just waved off the press, chats with someone at the back door of the Alamodome. Rodman talks to the press only on some nights and tonight isn’t one of them.

Outside, hundreds of fans wait for him in the parking lot. When he comes out, they squeal as if he were Mick Jagger.

Rodman is a superstar. There are lots of stars like David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, but only a few superstars like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley . . . and Dennis.

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Dennis likes it too. Everything he does, he does to be noticed. It has to do with an impoverished childhood and the old Bad Boys shtick he learned in Detroit. It was a lark for other Pistons, like Bill Laimbeer, quintessential suburbanite and son of a wealthy industrialist, but it was a calling for Rodman, quintessential outsider and son of a man who split when Dennis was 3.

As the Bad Boys declined, Rodman became a star and it was hard to tell which flipped him out more. A Detroit writer once described him as “29 going on 15.”

Rodman’s brief, volatile marriage to a flashy Sacramento model named Annie Bakes broke up. He was afraid she was seeing a teammate. People feared he might hurt himself. Once, after having been missing, he turned up in the early hours of the morning in the Palace of Auburn Hills parking lot, with a loaded rifle in his truck.

The tattoos and earrings and dye jobs? Annie did all of them first.

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Everything he did pointed to rage and self-loathing--and made him more famous. He forced the Pistons to trade him. He became even bigger.

Madonna came around. The rebel icons dated for several months last season, all but incinerating the Spurs in the process.

“I went out with Dennis and Madonna several times,” Haley says.

“I tell you, she’s a shocker. You would expect what you see on TV, as with Dennis. She’s not at all like that. She’s more a lady than what I expected. She didn’t use profanity. She was very nice and friendly to everybody. She met my family and friends, took pictures with everybody. Very nice, cordial.

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“The only thing is, she’s a lady who’s in control of her own future. She has so much power. She and Dennis ran into a little bit of a power struggle over who was in charge of the relationship because both of them were used to having people fall all over them.

“It’s not rumor. It’s true. I was there. She was dead serious. She wanted Dennis Rodman to marry her. She asked Dennis several times to marry her. I was there, I heard it with my own ears. She wanted to have a baby.

“She said, ‘You have your career and I have mine but we can work it out, build a big house.’ It was a definite serious relationship.

“Dennis was extremely caught up in the allure of Madonna, but he wasn’t ready yet to make that kind of commitment after going out six weeks. She came to Las Vegas once when he was there and said, ‘Let’s do it right now.’ He said no.”

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Meanwhile, the Spurs were trying to squeeze in a season.

At mid-season, they were on a roll, but they had problems of every sort. Coach John Lucas, a believer in second chances, packed the roster with problem children.

The buzzards came home to roost in the playoffs with a 3-1 opening-round loss to the Utah Jazz. Rodman hip-checked John Stockton and was ejected from Game 1 and suspended for Game 2. The Spurs lost both on their home court.

“We lost last year in the playoffs because our team fragmented because of the distractions,” Haley says. “Madonna was a big part of that. You know, J.R. Reid was teed off, Terry Cummings was upset. Luke played Dennis all the minutes and Dennis would miss practices and shoot-arounds. Madonna was in our locker room. Stuff like that caused a lot of dissension on the team. . . .

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“Here’s an example. We’re in Utah, it’s the final game of the year. We lose the game. The game ended, Dennis walked into the locker room, grabbed his bag, did not take his uniform off. Before the coaches had gotten off the floor, he and Madonna were in a limousine on their way to the airport to go to Las Vegas. Never said goodby to anyone. Never spoke to the team. Just left. That left a kind of a sour taste with some of the guys.”

Shortly thereafter, Dennis and Madonna broke up.

“She dumped him,” Haley says. “Don’t think it was the other way around. I mean, they both kind of faded, but she gave the final drop kick.”

CALL ME ‘GENERAL’ MEETS WILD THING

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By the time this season started, the Spurs were under new management.

The new CEO, Robert McDermott, an insurance magnate, liked to be called “General,” his rank in the reserves. Lucas was encouraged to leave. McDermott hired no-nonsense Gregg Popovich as general manager. Popovich brought in straight-arrow Coach Bob Hill.

Rodman was no easy convert. In Detroit, he had lamented Chuck Daly’s exit so keenly, he wouldn’t talk to his successor, Ron Rothstein.

Rodman had a promise from the prior administration to extend his contract, adding a season at $6 million. The new people said he had to prove himself first and act like everyone else too.

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By way of reply, Rodman blew off the pre-camp dinner and arrived late for the first exhibition. They put him on leave, then suspended him for the first month of the season.

When he returned, Hill brought him off the bench, a comedown for a man who lives to pad his rebound totals.

In Miami on Jan. 20, Rodman was rounding the corner to the bus for a shoot-around when it pulled out without him. He was suspended again.

Rodman averaged 19 rebounds a game after that, led the fast break and even took an occasional layup. If he misses a practice these days, as he did recently when he claimed his alarm clock hadn’t gone off, they take his word for it.

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Or as Popovich said, “Good people sometimes oversleep too.”

Aside from Haley, Rodman still doesn’t say much to teammates but will now drop a sentence here and there.

“He addressed Vinny (Del Negro) one time and he called him by his last name,” Haley says. “I don’t think he knew his first name. This is a guy who two weeks ago in a walk-through asked me who Hank Egan is. That’s our head assistant coach.

“That’s just the way he is. One of our assistant coaches came to me the other day and said, ‘Jack, you think Dennis will sign some stuff for me?’

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“I said, ‘Sure, go ask him.’

“He said, ‘I’m afraid he won’t know who I am.’ ”

The assistant shouldn’t take it personally. When Rodman’s mother and sisters came down from Dallas for Christmas, Dennis left them at his place and spent the day with the Haleys.

Hill doesn’t like to discuss Rodman--"You know, we’re not really supposed to talk to the national media about Dennis. We’ve kinda taken a stance."--but says he expects no more problems “because Dennis is all about winning.”

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Hill pretends not to understand what the fuss is about, saying, “Beyond the hair, tattoos and earrings, he’s just like you and me.”

Actually, Dennis is all about being Dennis, so anything is possible.

“Exactly what I felt had to happen has happened,” Haley says. “Both sides were going to have to give a little.

“The if- you’re- going- to- be- 30- seconds- late- we- don’t- want- you- out- here- on- the- floor rule has gone out the window. Dennis is 10 minutes late every day. David Robinson summed it up the other day: ‘Dennis is irresponsible. We all have to deal with that. Let’s play basketball.’ ”

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There is a league-wide freeze on contracts until a new labor contract is signed but after the thaw, Rodman expects to be taken care of--for a lot more than $6 million.

“The reason Dennis sat out all those games and the reason we’re still in a volatile situation is because of contract and money,” Haley says.

“Until that’s resolved, then you’re dealing with a guy who could walk out at any minute to make a point. And you know when Dennis says something, he backs it up. He doesn’t make idle threats.”

At the regular season’s end, Haley yelled at a Spur official for failing to recognize Rodman’s fourth consecutive rebound title and Dennis had that look again. When someone asked what was wrong with Rodman, Robinson replied: “Good question.”

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But so far in the playoffs, everything’s fine. The Spurs, still favored, are sprinting for the finish line, on eggshells.


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