DJ Rodman’s bedroom in Newport Beach, California, is more like a man cave any mid- to late-1980s/1990s basketball buff would love to call his own.
The walls are adorned with autographed, game-worn NBA jerseys – nearly a dozen of them – representing every stage of Dennis Rodman’s professional career: the well-known Detroit Pistons stage, the illustrious-and-yet-contentious Chicago Bulls era, and the three other stages that comprised Rodman’s 15 years in the league, spent with the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
Supposedly, there’s another addition to the bedroom museum on its way – something that might even make the memorabilia hoarders at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts a tad envious.
“I was supposed to get his Pistons and Bulls rings, but there’s a little complication with how they’re supposed to be delivered to me,” DJ, coming off his freshman season at Washington State, told The Spokesman-Review Tuesday in a phone interview. “So, we’re trying to figure that out right now.”
Sunday night, an audience of 6.1 million viewers tuned into ESPN’s “The Last Dance” docuseries to learn more about Stages 1 and 3 – those with the Pistons and the Bulls – of Rodman’s polarizing NBA career. The player’s dicey relationship with Bulls legend Michael Jordan, the primary subject of the 10-part documentary, and Rodman’s exploits on and off the basketball court were spotlighted in the hourlong third episode of “The Last Dance.”
DJ Rodman, the only son of the five-time NBA champion, was celebrating his mother Michelle’s birthday on a river in Arizona when Sunday’s episodes aired. For basketball fans looking to get their fix during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jordan documentary has been appointment viewing since it debuted nine days ago. With the third episode largely centered around his father, DJ made sure his schedule was clear from 6-8 p.m. Sunday so he could watch “The Last Dance,” unbothered and uninterrupted.
DJ and his younger sister Trinity live with Michelle, who finalized a divorce from Dennis in 2012, although the children still communicate sporadically with their father. Earlier this year, DJ coerced Trinity, one of the top-rated high school soccer prospects in the country, to decommit from UCLA and play for WSU coach Todd Shulenberger, who recently led the Cougars to the College Cup. During the college basketball season, DJ said Michelle was planning a move to Pullman to spend more time with both children.
While Dennis has shared certain aspects of his career, DJ has managed to fill in many of the blanks on his own, performing Google searches, browsing through YouTube clips and learning about Dennis’ career through stories shared by others.
Even then, “The Last Dance” delivered a few surprises.
DJ, for example, didn’t know about the short, impromptu vacation his father took to Las Vegas midway through the 1997-98 season while the Bulls were chasing their third consecutive championship. During the documentary, a frustrated Jordan explains his teammate needed to “let loose” after Scottie Pippen returned from a delayed surgery that kept him off the floor at the start of the season.
“You let this dude go to vacation, we’re not going to see him,” Jordan said in the documentary. “You let him go to Vegas, we’re definitely not going to see him.”
Nonetheless, Rodman got the green light from Phil Jackson, which displayed the healthy dynamic between player and coach. Documentary footage shows Rodman grabbing a Miller Lite and zooming off on a motorcycle, spending multiple days in Vegas and neglecting to report back to the team until Jordan barged into his Chicago home to pry him away from then-girlfriend Carmen Electra.
“That’s the only thing where I was like, ‘Oh, I did not know that could happen,’ ” DJ said of the vacation. “I thought it was amusing, because no one could really do that.”
Besides that, “nothing really surprised me,” DJ said.
Rodman’s Vegas escapade was a cause for concern among teammates – especially because he didn’t return within the 48-hour window that was agreed upon – but the partying that consumed his nonbasketball hours never seemed to impact his play.
“Honestly, I think he was the best athlete in the NBA,” DJ said. “I’d say conditioning-wise, not necessarily vertically – jumping or speed – but conditioning and all that, just athletically gifted.”
Considered one of the all-time great rebounders, Dennis grabbed 18 boards per game his final two seasons in Detroit and posted double-figure rebounding averages each of his last 10 seasons in the NBA. He was the league’s rebounding champ every year from 1991-98.
While Dennis never taught his son the nuances of picking a basketball off the glass, DJ, not surprisingly, has always been a naturally gifted rebounder. He averaged 8.9 per game as a high school senior in California’s highly competitive Trinity League and had at least four in every game he logged at least 20 minutes for the Cougars as a freshman.
“Well, obviously, I’ve known that was a strength of his and I knew that he was so smart that he knew where the ball’s coming off the rim and stuff like that,” DJ said. “I’ve always known about that stuff, how to read those things.”
The documentary also touches on his father’s unlikely upbringing in basketball – something DJ has always found fascinating. Dennis was an All-American at NAIA Southeastern Oklahoma State before becoming the 27th overall pick of the 1986 NBA draft. Rodman’s teammate, Pippen, also shares an NAIA background, climbing onto the NBA’s radar after playing college basketball at Central Arkansas.
“I always think it’s cool to see where some legends come out of,” DJ said. “Not the biggest colleges, like you see nowadays.”
“The Last Dance” highlights the flamboyant side of Dennis Rodman, known for his tattoos, metal piercings and eccentric outfits, but it also offers a glimpse of him as a shy and introverted youngster trying to navigate the NBA landscape as a member of the mid-1980s “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons.
DJ, a humble and soft-spoken freshman who played 26 games for Kyle Smith’s team last season, offering solid defense and 3-point shooting off the Cougars’ bench, can identify a few parallels with his father in that regard.
“I think that’s cool he was shy and still made an impact,” DJ said. “Because right now in my basketball career, I’m also not really an outspoken player like he was on the Pistons. I think it’s just cool I relate to him in that way.”
As a result of his father’s stardom and success, DJ has relished the opportunities he’s had to meet a handful of the NBA superstars who played in the same era. He tagged along to Dennis’ jersey retirement in Detroit and has fond recollections of meeting “every ‘Bad Boy’ Piston.” He hasn’t met Jordan yet, but he’s spent time with Pippen and years ago had an encounter with former Bulls guard/current Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Even as the documentary shifts away from his father, DJ is excited to see what else “The Last Dance” has in store. He found Jordan’s role as a pseudo “player-coach” interesting and is curious to know how the Bulls pulled off a historic three-peat even with the turmoil and distractions that were permeating the organization at the time.
“I just want to know when they were so broken, when they were so broken as a team,” DJ said, “how they eventually become world champions and how they fix that up.”
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