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Rodman Ready to Join Lakers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis Rodman, the game’s greatest rebounder and its most disruptive force, has decided to join the Lakers, sources told The Times on Friday.

The team has been in negotiations with Rodman’s agent, Steve Chasman of International Creative Management, for almost two weeks, with owner Jerry Buss extending a personal invitation to play.

The talks had been sidetracked for a week while Chasman discussed possible movie deals with Fox, which holds an option to buy into the Lakers as a 10% partner.

Rodman had been laying low in his home in Newport Beach, refusing to talk to Laker officials until finally agreeing to meet with them Thursday. He has reportedly reconciled himself to the veterans’ minimum of $1 million--pro-rated to $600,000 for this shortened season--plus another $3 million he’d get from his endorsement contract with Converse.

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Neither Chasman nor ICM officials could be reached for comment.

Said Laker spokesman John Black: “I would not say that I expect that to happen.”

Rodman, who will be 38 in May, has led the NBA in rebounding for the last seven seasons. He has played on five championship teams, two in Detroit, the last three in Chicago, is a two-time defensive player of the year and has been on the all-defensive first team seven times.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t merely come with baggage but an entire train of it.

He is wildly eccentric, from his exotic hair-dye jobs to his tattoos to the jewelry that pierces his skin almost from head to toe. He rarely talks to teammates except during games. He is customarily late for everything and has even blown off practices during the NBA finals, as he did during last spring’s Bulls-Jazz series, when he took off for a day without permission to wrestle with Hollywood Hogan.

Then there are the incidents. . . .

Three seasons ago, he was suspended for head-butting referee Ted Bernhardt.

Two seasons ago, he was suspended by the Bulls for cursing on a live postgame show, by the league for kicking a photographer in the crotch during a game in Minneapolis and insulted Mormons during the finals in Salt Lake City.

In all, he has been suspended six times in the last seven seasons, twice by the league, the other four by three teams--the Pistons, Spurs and Bulls. Additionally, he was also put on a 14-day paid leave by the Spurs.

Nevertheless, because of his peculiar virtues and willingness to do the dirty work that few abide and precious few ever did like him, he has never been without suitors, even when critics insisted it was all over for him.

Renounced recently by the Bulls as part of their post-Michael Jordan housecleaning, he inspired in-house debates among several teams and interest from two, Miami and Orlando.

However, Rodman didn’t like Miami Coach Pat Riley’s public insistence that he toe the line or be canned immediately and turned toward Orlando.

Chuck Daly, Rodman’s first pro coach in Detroit, tried to make it happen but was overruled by his principle-espousing owner, Rich DeVos.

That left the Lakers, who weren’t interested until attempts to get other power forwards--Sacramento’s Chris Webber, Minnesota’s Tom Gugliotta, Orlando’s Horace Grant--failed, leaving management frustrated and the players, notably Shaquille O’Neal, who kept saying he wanted a “thug,” deflated.

At about the same time, Buss ran into Rodman, whom he considers a personal friend, in a local restaurant, and the two chatted. Soon thereafter, negotiations began.

“Dennis is a talent on the floor,” Buss said before the season opener. “As far as I can read the public, they want to win as badly as I want to win. They’re very hungry for a championship. It’s been a while. . . .

“I think a lot of people would forgive him as long as he tried to act somewhat orderly. . . . Dennis is Dennis. We’re not about to tell Dennis how to be someone else. We’d take him the way he is.”

Even O’Neal, who called Rodman “a bum,” and noted, “If my grandmother played with Michael Jordan, she’d have a ring too,” after Rodman said O’Neal was overpaid on “The Tonight Show,” pushed for it, enthusiastically.

Negotiations stalled while Chasman huddled with Fox officials, but O’Neal said he talked to Rodman by phone last week, making him the only Laker to get through until Thursday’s meeting.

“I heard him say he wants to come to L.A.,” O’Neal said during the recent Laker trip. “I heard him say he wants to go to Orlando, but I know DeVos isn’t having that. I know Pat Riley isn’t having that. So we’re kind of the only option left.”

They’re his, he’s theirs. What could go wrong now?

Times staff writer Tim Kawakami contributed to this story.


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