Rodman the Talk of the Towns

Coming soon to a bookstore and/or institution near you . . .

As in Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, Dennis Rodman burns his career at both ends. It will not last the night but, ah, his foes, and oh, his friends, it makes a pretty big bonfire.

Rodman's book, "Bad As I Wanna Be," promoted as only the author could--arriving at a signing on a Harley Davidson wearing a dress with a feather boa, crying on Oprah Winfrey's show at the mention of his daughter--went through five printings before release and debuted high on the New York Times bestseller list.

Not that it's hard to sell books or anything else in Chicago, also known as "Hooterville, Ill.," where the latest fashion craze is a T-shirt with Rodman's tattoos ("She Devil" et al.) and fans have been swept away by the new self-mutilation chic.

Of course, critics are everywhere, starting with Commissioner David Stern, whose displeasure with the book is reportedly Vesuvian and filtering out through his broadcasting minions.

A reporter for Chicago's WGN-TV solicited the opinion of NBC's Ahmad Rashad but Rashad later asked the clip not be used, saying "David wasn't too crazy about it."

TNT's Danny Ainge said Rodman's publisher bold-faced passages and used large type "because Dennis' fans can't read." NBC's Bob Costas said, "If Rodman couldn't rebound, he'd be another freak trying to get his 45 minutes on the 'Ricki Lake Show.' "

The Knicks' Derek Harper said he hoped his son hadn't seen Rodman in drag on TV.

Michael Jordan said his boys have met Rodman but are being deprogrammed.

"I introduced them to Dennis the other day," Jordan said. "I said, 'I hope you don't think Dennis is a role model.'

"And Marcus said, 'Yeah, I want red hair.'

"I said, 'Nah. No red hair. No earring. . . .'

"I think they're fascinated by some of the things they see with Rodman. They hear things from kids at school or from other kids. But every question they've had about him, I've corrected them."

Rodman's former wife, Annie, called the book "a lot of bull." She is writing her own, which might be titled, "Worse Than He Says He Is."

"If people would know the true Dennis, first of all, they probably wouldn't believe it," she said. "He left out the part where he beat my butt.

"People should look at the court documents and our divorce papers. I can't believe the people of Chicago are falling all over this guy. He pushed me down the stairs when I was pregnant in 1992 and I went on to have a miscarriage. I was going into my fifth month."

There is a question on how long Rodman will be able to take advantage of this unique marketing opportunity. The Bulls' needle has swung from "on his best behavior" to "poses problems" and may be approaching "more trouble than he's worth."

However, he is back in the starting lineup against the physical Knicks and responding; in Game 2 he took 19 rebounds and shut down Anthony Mason as surely as if he'd strangled him with his boa.

Said a teammate: "Pretty good for a guy who was wearing a dress a few days ago."

SUNSET IN GOTHAM: GOING DOWN TALKING

Things have changed in Madison Square Garden, once the home of Pat Riley's rough, tough Knicks, now inhabited by Jeff Van Gundy's talkers.

Struggling against the Bulls despite the slumps of Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc, they complained about the Bulls' cockiness, their cruelty and anything else that struck them wrong.

Knick President Dave Checketts said he was appalled by Rodman, vowing, "I guarantee you, as long as I'm running the New York Knicks, he will not be on this club."

Van Gundy zinged Phil Jackson, who is proud of his psychological insights and fond of throwing darts through the press, and Ron Harper, who has always liked to run his mouth.

"Twenty-three [Jordan] makes all that psychobabble look good," Van Gundy said. "If all that psychobabble worked, every team in America would win 72 games.

"Ron Harper wasn't talking from the end of the bench last year. They got 23 back and he's a motormouth now."

Van Gundy even attacked St. Michael, calling Jordan "a nasty guy" and "one of the most physical players in the game," charging he throws elbows. Asked if the greatest artist ever to grace the game is a dirty player, Van Gundy said only, "I'm not touching that one."

When Patrick Ewing blew up at Bull assistant coach Jim Cleamons in Game 2, Van Gundy sniffed that he would "hold myself to a higher standard of decorum. I don't think it's right for myself or any other coach to talk to a player in derogatory terms. From what people tell me, it's a consistent thing around their staff."

It's true, Van Gundy has little firsthand knowledge about the Bulls' staff, since Riley wouldn't let him and the other assistants even talk to opposing coaches.

Ewing, 33, has been playing well but was fading in fourth quarters until Saturday. Cleamons had suggested, helpfully, that perhaps Van Gundy should use his bench more.

Even the usually gracious Ewing flipped out.

"They were talking a lot of trash," Ewing said. "He was talking trash [Cleamons says he was only telling Luc Longley not to back down from Ewing]. I'm sick and tired of hearing them bitch and moan. They're down there bitching and moaning, saying all those things to the referees and then we're not getting a fair whistle. That's the Bulls. They get away with everything."

That's the Knicks. In two years, their 12 players will be on about eight different teams.

NAMES AND NUMBERS

Indiana Pacer officials are frantic about tampering, worried someone will steal antsy Coach Larry Brown. President Donnie Walsh says he and Brown talked about Clipper rumors in April, with Brown declaring he was staying--unless someone offered part ownership of a team. The Dallas Mavericks had Brown on a list with Rick Pitino, Paul Westphal, Brad Davis and Cleamons but let it leak to the Dallas papers before asking permission. Walsh then said he wouldn't grant permission. Dallas General Manager Norm Sonju, just restored to power by the Ross Perot Jr. syndicate, is taking the heat for bungling this one.

Speculation on Miami's free-agent shopping list includes Gary Payton, Derek Harper and Magic Johnson. After a stint in New York with John Starks, who couldn't defend against big guards, and a series against the Bulls, who started a lineup with no one under 6 feet 5, Riley has had it with short backcourt players. Riley has a 6-9 center, Alonzo Mourning, who all but quit against the Bulls and who has been promised $15 million or so. "He's not undersized," Riley insists. "If you look at how he runs the court, drives by people. He's just got to increase his skill level." Not that you can't always believe what you hear, but there is speculation that Riley will pursue Dikembe Mutombo too, for a big, Knicks-style front line.

Mourning, on speculation that his college coach, John Thompson, will go to the Knicks: "He ain't going to New York. I know the type of people in New York, first of all, and Big John don't have the patience to deal with that." . . . The Heat's star search may leave Chris Gatling in the cold. Gatling was sensational off the bench--15 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes a game--but Riley doesn't know if he can afford him.

Utah's Bryon "Don't Call Me Byron" Russell, the former Long Beach State player, is making a playoff splash in his third season. "I just tried to stay ready," he says. "If I stay ready and the coaches put me in the game, I've always felt I could make something happen."

The Charlotte Hornets, hoping for a complete make-over, are expected to renounce Kenny Anderson--meaning they will have almost nothing to show for the trade that sent Kendall Gill and Khalid Reeves to the New Jersey Nets--and shop Glen Rice for a top pick so they can draft Marcus Camby or Allen Iverson. General Manager Bob Bass considers Camby, Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Antoine Walker--a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen--the top five players in the draft.

Of the surviving playoff teams, the Orlando Magic has the youngest starters. Average ages: Knicks 31.6, Bulls 31.2, Jazz 31.0, Rockets 30.0, Spurs 29.6, SuperSonics 28.6, Hawks 27.8, Magic 26.6.

Nice to see a national audience finally getting to see what a jerk Christian Laettner is. Asked by NBC's Peter Vecsey about Atlanta teammates who say he won't even say hello to them some days, Laettner said he couldn't deal with anyone shallow enough to judge him on that basis. He didn't say why he doesn't say hello. . . . After a late-season game in which the Hawks double-teamed Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Scott made a record 11 three-point baskets, Coach Lenny Wilkens let the undersized Laettner and Sean Rooks play Shaq one on one. O'Neal had 41 points and six assists in Game 1. Said Rooks, "I weigh 260 and when I get position I can move just about anybody in this league but I couldn't make him budge. Not one inch."

O'Neal, denying rivalry angles as usual, told reporters, "I hope y'all are not going to make it into some Laettner-O'Neal matchup." Meanwhile, teammate Penny Hardaway was saying O'Neal always gets up for Laettner, irritated that he once beat him out for college player of the year. Or maybe Laettner didn't say hello to O'Neal either. . . . Hawk scout Jack Nolan: "Christian's not a center, but he plays one on TV."

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