Here’s what Bulls said about Dennis Rodman’s wrestling stint during 1998 NBA Finals
One of the highlights of the final episode of “The Last Dance” was the disappearing act Dennis Rodman pulled between games 3 and 4 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
It seems Rodman missed practice and a mandatory media session and instead appeared alongside Hulk Hogan on “WCW Monday Nitro.” And then he literally ran from the media upon his return to avoid the topic.
At the time, Rodman and the Chicago Bulls held a 2-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz. “The Last Dance” shows then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson telling the media of Rodman’s antics: “He’s only taking your focus away from the Finals. Not ours.”
A look at The Times’ coverage from 1998, however, suggests otherwise. Future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was quite critical of Rodman following the missed practice.
“I think it’s very frustrating at this time,” Pippen said. “But you don’t want to carry that into the next game, you don’t want to carry that into the next practice. You want the team chemistry to stay there and stay as strong and bonding as possible, especially in the situation that we’re in right now. We don’t want Dennis taking the focus away from the team. He’s going to come to practice tomorrow, hopefully, and have some lame excuse, but we’re just going to overlook it and just look forward to the next game.”
On the same day, Michael Jordan told reporters: “With Dennis comes a lot of baggage. We just have to carry it and we have to accept it.”
And Luc Longley said of Rodman’s shenanigans: “We don’t like it, but we put up with it.”
Even Jackson, apparently before learning of Rodman’s whereabouts, sounded critical of the guy.
“If there were more people like Dennis, we’d be in chaos. We couldn’t have a society,” Jackson said. “We couldn’t have lanes on a freeway. You couldn’t get people to queue up. He’s not a normal person in society.”
It was the next day, following Rodman’s return to practice, that Jackson made the comment featured in “The Last Dance.” Here’s more of that quote:
“The focus should be that Dennis is a unique individual, maybe in some sense handicapped, who’s finding an occupation here at which he’s doing extremely well.
“Rather than trying to make him look like some kind of dysfunctional character — Dennis functions probably as well as he can function in a system like this. And it’s a wonderful thing that he’s been able to find it to play in. I don’t know if he could ever play in a 9-to-5 world. I doubt if he could. But he’s made it in this world and it’s great.
“He’s only taking your focus away from the finals, not ours. You’re focusing on it and you’re the ones who’ve made him what he’s out to be. ... He’s become an anti-hero in this society, and that’s a problem.”
Rodman was fined $20,000 by the league and the Bulls but reportedly made $250,000 for his professional wrestling appearance.
“It was good,” Rodman told reporters at the time. “I made some good friends and made a lot of money.”
Rodman grabbed a series-high 14 rebounds in Game 4, an 86-82 Chicago victory. The Bulls went on to win the series, and their sixth championship, in six games.
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