From Basketball to Pyongyang: Dennis Rodman’s life and career have been anything but ordinary

It’s hard to use the word “normal” to describe any part of Dennis Rodman’s life. The five-time NBA Champion didn’t follow the set path that most basketball players follow. He wasn’t a star player in high school. He didn’t go on to start for a Division I school with the hopes of winning an NCAA Champion. He ended up at the draft, but he did it in a completely unique way, a Dennis Rodman way.

Players, coaches and fans have described him in many different ways during his career. Wild is one of them. But also unique, even a genius. Rodman was different than everyone else in every way possible. He got into fights, was constantly fined and suspended. He had his own pre-game routine that was so different than any other player on each of his teams. He was married several times, dated the biggest stars and befriended the strangest of people (and world leaders).

Yet he still spent 14 seasons in the league. He was a two-time All Star, made the All NBA Team twice and the All NBA Defensive Team eight times. He was one of the best rebounders the league has ever seen, averaging 18 rebounds a game in the 1990s. Dennis Rodman was one of the most extraordinary of players to step onto an NBA court, both because of his talent and because of his antics.

Rodman’s life can be split into three parts: before the NBA, during the NBA, and after the NBA, and each shows how he became the person he is today. That unique individual who we can’t decide if to love or hate, who constantly keeps us on our toes and has us asking, what’s next?

His life was anything but ordinary, but one thing is for sure, it definitely keeps us entertained.

Before the NBA: Childhood

Dennis Rodman was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1961. It wasn’t the easiest childhood for him and his family. He, his mother and two sisters were abandoned by his father when he was just a young boy. His mother Shirley then moved the family to Dallas, TX, where she worked odd jobs and several at a time. As a high schooler, Rodman was still relatively short for a basketball player, just 5’9, and was cut from the basketball team.

rodman younger

Before the NBA: Working as a Janitor

After high school, Rodman worked odd jobs. One of them was a job as a janitor at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. One night, Rodman broke into a store at the airport, stealing watches. He was caught and arrested. But Rodman was able to get out of any real punishment after returning the watches, which he gave to his friends. Meanwhile, Rodman was playing basketball on the streets, and had finally gone through a growth spurt.


Before the NBA: Junior college

After finally hitting that growth spurt, Rodman gave organized basketball another try, taking his talents from the streets to junior college. Rodman accepted an offer at Cooke County Junior College in Gainesville, Texas. But it didn’t last long either. Some biography websites say he flunked out of college, while others who have written biographies about Rodman claim he left. Either way, Rodman was once again stepping away from basketball, this time already in his 20s. By his age, most NBA stars have already made their debuts.

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Before the NBA: Homeless Dennis

Before making it in the NBA, Dennis Rodman was homeless. According to Sam Smith, a Bulls writer who wrote Rodman’s biography for the Hall of Fame induction, after Dennis left Cooke County, his mother had “had enough,” and wouldn’t let him back in the family home. Rodman himself references being homeless in his Hall of Fame speech and says his mother kicked him out of the house because she “can’t take” him anymore. Rodman said he resented his mother for a while, but the two have made up since.

Before the NBA: Giving college a second chance

With nowhere to go, Rodman gave college another try, this time with Southeastern Oklahoma in the NAIA. Rodman was already 22 at the time, and accepted the scholarship offer. He played for the university for three years, averaging 26 points and 16 rebounds. During his second and third seasons he led the league in rebounding, averaging 15.9 and 17.8 rebounds respectively. Needless to say, his rebounding caught the eyes of the NBA scouts.


Before the NBA: Befriending the closed-off kid

Before we get to the draft and the NBA, there is one part of Dennis life pre-NBA that has to be mentioned, because it helped mold him. While at Southeastern Oklahoma, Rodman befriended an introverted kid. The kid, Byrne Rich, experienced a traumatic event and became a loner. Rodman was invited for dinner with the family, and after a while became part of the family. He still credits them with helping save him, and thanked them during his Hall of fame induction speech.

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The NBA: The 1986 Draft

Here comes the basketball part. In 1986, after three years playing for Southeastern Oklahoma, Dennis Rodman, the 25-year old who was once homeless and worked as a janitor, was drafted at no. 27 by the Detroit Pistons. Rodman joined the Bad Boys, a team led by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and coached by Chuck Daily. Rodman spent seven seasons with the Pistons, averaging 8.8 PPG and 11.5 rebounds. His final two seasons he led the league in rebounds.

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The NBA: The rebounds

We’ve already mentioned the rebounds, so let’s talk about those. Dennis Rodman was a rebounding machine. He wanted it more than anyone else on the court. Rodman led the league in rebounds for seven straight seasons, from 1991-21 through 1997-98 while with the Bulls. During those seasons he was averaging nearly 17 rebounds a game. He averaged more than a dozen rebounds a game for eight straight seasons, starting in 1990-91 when he moved into Detroit’s starting lineup.


The NBA: Defensive Player of the Year

Dennis Rodman won his first Defensive Player of the Year Award while he was still coming off the bench. In 1989-90, Rodman played in all 82 games for the Pistons, but started only 43 of them. That season he averaged 8.8 PPG, 9.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. He won his second title the following year, when he was finally a starter and averaged 12.5 rebounds a game. Ironically, it was the following season that he started averaging 18 rebounds a game and his rebound title streak began.


The NBA: Asleep with a gun

Rodman may have become part of Detroit’s starting lineup, but his life was still a rollercoaster. In 1993, he was found asleep in his car at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons played until recently. But in the car he also had a gun. At the time, he was going through a divorce and Chuck Daly had left the Pistons. It was a low moment for Rodman. He had left a note with a friend and was later found by police, asleep in the truck with the gun. The following season, also 1993, he was traded to the Spurs.

dennis rodman gun

The NBA: The Spurs

The season after the truck incident, Rodman was traded to the Spurs. He already led the league in rebounds twice, and would continue to lead the league during the two seasons he played in San Antonio. While there, Rodman teamed up with big man David Robinson, and averaged 5.6 PPG and 17.1 rebounds. But the Spurs never made it to the Finals with Rodman, and he a big part of the blame. He also got into a lot trouble and paid thousands of dollars in fines, but we’ll get there later. He was later traded to the Bulls.


The NBA: Dating Madonna

As if Dennis Rodman wasn’t “wild” enough, he also dated Madonna along the way, and the relationship, like Rodman’s life, wasn’t normal in the slightest. The two dated for about two months back in 1994, while Rodman was playing for San Antonio. There have been various rumors and stories about their relations, some about him trying to impregnate her, while later claimed it was Madonna who was keen on having a baby with him and did anything to make it happen.

The NBA: The hair and piercings

Around that same time that he dated Madonna, Rodman started dying his hair and getting piercings and tattoos. His style is probably one of the most memorable things about him, perhaps even more than his actual talent on the court. Over the years he dyed and shaved the Bulls logo into his hair and dyed it flashy colors. While talking about his style, he would later say that he tried something bold, the Dennis Rodman he claims he was born to be.


The NBA: The wedding dress

In 1996, Rodman announced he is getting married. He then arrived at a book signing event for his biography, the opening promotion of the book nonetheless, wearing a full wedding gown. Rodman said he swung both ways and was planning to marry himself. However, it later came out that Rodman was paid a hefty sum of money by a designer to wear the dress, so it was all a publicity stunt. But with Rodman, you never know.


The NBA: The Bulls

In his Hall of Fame speech, Rodman talks about his conversations with Phil Jackson, then the Bulls head coach, about coming to Chicago. How Jackson made him apologize to Pippen and asked if even wanted to be a member of the team. He would go on to play for Chicago for three seasons, still leading the league in rebounds, while averaging just 5.2 points. But if you’re playing on a team with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, you don’t need to be much of a scorer, they needed exactly what Rodman gave them: his everything.

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The NBA: Wrestling

Rodman isn’t one for following rules or attending practice. In 1998, while still a member of the Bulls, Rodman skipped a mandatory media day and practice during the Finals and was later spotted at a wrestling match in Michigan with Hulk Hogan. Rodman even gave wrestling a try himself, under the name Rodzilla. In 1997 he wrestled at a WWE event with Hulk Hogan. Later in 1998, he and Hulk Hogan wrestled against Diamond Dallas Page and another NBA legend, Karl Malone.


The NBA: The championships

Dennis Rodman was a wild player, a flamboyant guy on and off the court. He is also a five-star NBA Champion and eight-time All NBA player. Rodman won two of those championships with the Detroit Pistons, in 1988-89 and 1989-90. His next three championships didn’t come until he joined the Bulls in 1995-96 and played alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. At that point, he was only in his 10th season but was already 34 years old.


The NBA: Carmen Electra

Dennis Rodman is famous for his basketball, his antics and for the women he dated and married. In 1998, Rodman married Baywatch star Carmen Electra. Electra later spoke about the marriage saying Rodman was the life of the party while she was in “self-destruction” mode after her mother passed. She described their marriage saying “when it was good, it was amazing. And when it was bad, it was the worst.” Their marriage lasted just about a year.


The NBA: The Lakers and Mavs

After Rodman was released by the Bulls in January 1999,, he signed as a free agent with the LA Lakers. But that didn’t last long either, and in April of that same year, he was waived by the team. He started in 11 of the 23 games he played for the Lakers, averaging 28.6 minutes a game, 2.1 points and 11.2 rebounds. From there he found his way to the Mavericks, signing as a free agent in 2000. This time Rodman played in only 12 games, averaging 2.8 points and 14.3 rebounds. When he was waived from the Mavs, his NBA career came to an end.


The NBA: The fines

Dennis Rodman was wild. As wild as they come, and he didn’t care. His list of fines and suspensions, by teams and the league, is astounding. In 1997 he famous kicked a cameraman during a game in Minneapolis and was fined $25,000 and suspended for 11 games. The unpaid suspension cost him around $1 million. Over the years he was also fined for verbally abusing referees, head-butting John Stockton and a few years later head-butting a referee. He has a long list of fines and suspension for flagrant fouls, including throwing Dikembe Mutombo to the ground.


The NBA: “The Rodman World Tour”

Of course, Rodman had his own show, “The Rodman World Tour.” But the MTV talk show didn’t last long. The weekly, 30-minute show was supposed to be about Rodman, in a van, driving around America and hanging out with celebrities. The point was for Rodman to make them squirm. He even interrogated Jay Leno about his fantasies during the show’s first ever episode. The show filmed in Las Vegas, New York, LA and even monte Carlo and Rome.

rodman world tour

After the NBA: Celebrity Rehab

Dennis Rodman has a history of alcoholism. He went to rehab several times, and in 2009, he even appeared on season three of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” but reportedly relapsed just shortly after the show had premiered. During the show he said his alcohol problem was under control, but considering he fell off the wagon shortly after, we’re not so sure about that. He would later appear on the show’s spinoff, Sober House, where he was reunited with his mother.


After the NBA: Hall of Fame Rodman

In 2011 Dennis Rodman was inducted into the Hall of Fame. His induction was everything you’d imagine it to be and more. With his piercings, his kids and wife in attendance and pirate-looking jacket with “Pistons” and “Bulls” written on the back. At times during his speech, Rodman became so emotional he couldn’t speak. He thanked the four men who guided him through his life and even apologized and thanked his mother, with whom he had a rocky relationship his entire life. Rodman played for 14 seasons, averaging 7.3 PPG and 13.1 rebounds.


After the NBA: Rodman the Author

We’ve already mentioned Rodman’s first book, an autobiography with a promotion for the ages. Overall, Rodman has written several books, including Bad As I Wanna Be, Walk on the Wild Side, I Should Be Dead By Now and Words from the Worm. His books received decent reviews on Amazon, but we’re sad to say that we never had a chance to read them ourselves and don’t even know what to expect from them, but maybe it’s time to try them out.


After the NBA: Befriending Kim Jong Un

In 2011, Kim Jong Un became the leader of communist North Korea. As it turns out, Kim had a fondness for Rodman and somehow the two became friends. Rodman first visited North Korea in March 2013, when he brought the Harlem Globetrotters with him. They did a tour of the country and played a game that ended with a score of 110-110, and Kim was given a Globetrotters jersey. He returned to the communist country later that year with a betting company. He returned again in December to hold tryouts for a team.

rodman and kim

After the NBA: Kenneth Bae

The following year, while in North Korea, Rodman had a meltdown while doing an interview with CNN about Kenneth Bae, an American who was jailed in the communist country. While holding a cigar, Rodman told anchor Chris Cuomo that he could “open the door a little bit,” and kept saying “if you understand what he did,” yelling at the anchor. The meltdown was later replayed almost everywhere and Rodman would go on to apologize for the outburst and claimed he was drunk during the interview.


After the NBA: Happy Birthday Bestie I

Before the infamous Kenneth Bae breakdown, Dennis Rodman played an exhibition basketball game for the dictator’s birthday. But even before the game began, Rodman stood in front of a crowd of North Korean spectators and sang an odd rendition of happy birthday to Kim Jong Un that resembled Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to former president John F Kennedy. The entire auditorium was clapping along as he sang and then walked up and bowed to the dictator.

After the NBA: Happy Birthday Bestie II

Of course it was the Marilyn Monroe style singing that stole the show. But Dennis Rodman also brought with him a group of former NBA stars to play a game. During that CNN interview, Charles Smith said they received a letter from the North Korea with an invitation to come play a game. He said they aren’t there to talk sense into politics, but are there for basketball diplomacy. The team of former NBA players played against the North Korean team.

rodman korea

After the NBA: Another North Korea Trip

Dennis Rodman paid another trip to North Korea in 2017. The trip was highly publicized and Rodman takes credit for the return of US student Otto Warmbier, who was being held captive by the North Korean government for 17 months. Warmbier was in a coma when he returned to the US, and passed away just a few days later. The American government and Warmbier’s family claim Rodman had nothing to do with the release, but Rodman is convinced he did. After his visit, many called for his Hall of Fame status to be revoked.