Dennis Rodman is an … interesting guy, to put it gently. He’s known best for his unbelievable rebounding ability, bizarre fashion choices and off-court incidents. But there was far more to the man than the hustle on the floor, and the antics off of it. “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary chronicling Michael Jordan’s 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, continued on Sunday and we got to learn much more about Rodman.
Episode three of the series focused on his rise from tiny Southeastern Oklahoma State, to winning two titles with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, and eventually finding a home on the Bulls alongside Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Understandably, the documentary focused on some of the more outlandish Rodman episodes, including the time Jordan had to fly to Vegas to drag him out of a hotel room while Carmen Electra hid under the covers.
But one of the best aspects of focusing an entire episode on Rodman is that it gave some shine to the more reserved, studious side of Rodman. Because behind all the eccentricity was a basketball genius. He turned rebounding into a science, and worked tirelessly to master the craft.
As he explained in the film, he would go to empty gyms and tell his friends to shoot from all sides of the court, and from different distances, so he could study how the ball would come off the rim. But beyond positioning, he would learn how other players released the ball on their shots, which would give him even more information.
Just watch and listen as he breaks everything down. It’s incredible.
Rodman’s full quote, though it’s much better if you watch him deliver it:
“I’d just sit there and react, react. I just practiced a lot about the angle of the ball and the trajectory of it. You got a Larry Bird, it’s gonna spin. You got a Magic, it’ll maybe spin. When Michael shoot over here, I position myself right there. Now it hit the rim, it’s boom. Click, go back this way. Boom, here, here. Click, go that way. Boom, that way. Click here, this way. So basically I just start learning how to put myself in a position to get the ball.”
Later on in the episode, there’s an awesome shot of Rodman, legs crossed, sitting on a tiny folding chair in front of one of those old-school TVs that rolled around on a cart. Headphones on, he’s focusing intently on the notes he’s taking from the film in front of him.
It wasn’t just rebounding with Rodman, though. That was obviously his main skill, but he had an incredible grasp of everything that was going on defensively.
“Dennis is one of the smartest guys I played with,” Jordan said in the doc. “He understood defensive strategy with all the rotations and he had no limits in terms of what he does.”
Jordan isn’t someone who just hands out praise all over the place. When he’s talking about someone that way, they really earned it.
In addition to the five titles he won with the Pistons and Bulls, by the time Rodman called it a career, he had won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, been named to seven All-Defensive First Teams and won the rebounding title seven times. For his career, he averaged 13.1 rebounds per game, and had an NBA-record 159 games with 20-plus rebounds. No one else has more than 95.
You could go on and on with the incredible stats, but simply put, Rodman is the greatest rebounding forward of all time. And these moments from the show were a perfect summation of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making that a reality.