Rodman and Class of 2011 ready to rock the Hall of Fame

With three former Bulls – Dennis Rodman, Tex Winter and Artis Gilmore – poised for enshrinement in basketball’s Hall of Fame, Sam Smith of Bulls.com breaks down the Class of 2011’s first day in Springfield, Mass.

 Dennis Rodman
"It’s hard to entertain and be an athlete and play smart basketball all at the same time," said Rodman. "You’ve got to know how to put the game of basketball first. I put the game of basketball first. I did what I did and enjoyed my life. I’m thankful I went to Chicago. The guys understood me and let me be the person I wanted to be. I can’t thank those guys enough and the people of Chicago. I’m relevant. I haven’t had a job in 15 years and I’m still relevant."

(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

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Sam Smith at Bulls.com

By Sam Smith | 08.11.2011 | @SamSmithHoops

>> Basketball's Hall of Fame | Class of 2011

They don’t keep official records on this kind of thing, but Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame officials here in Springfield, Mass. Thursday seemed to agree this was the first time in history that any Hall of Fame inductee had thanked Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, the band Motley Crue and radio shocker Howard Stern during his pre-induction press conference.

Or, in fact, anytime during his life.

Yes, Dennis Rodman was here.

And Friday, perhaps the most unlikely ever character for basketball immortality—and even Rodman tends to agree—will be inducted in the Hall of Fame as a member of its Class of 2011.

Rodman leads a group, at least in reputation, that includes former Bulls center Artis Gilmore, former Bulls assistant Tex Winter, Stanford women’s coach Tara Vanderveer, multiple Olympic star Teresa Edwards, the late Globetrotters player Goose Tatum, former NBA and international center Arvydas Sabonis, Satch Sanders from the Celtics, Chris Mullin from the Warriors and Philadelphia University coach Herb Magee.

The honorees Thursday received their Hall of Fame blazers and offered short remarks with Tatum’s son appearing for him and Winter’s son, Chris, escorting the legendary Kansas State, Bulls and Lakers coach.

Winter, 89, suffered a severe stroke two years ago and wasn’t expected to appear at Thursday’s ceremonies. But Chris explained Tex said he felt so good he wanted to come.

It was a touching scene, as Winter unsteadily made his way to the stage unescorted and then offered some remarks with Chris’ support. Tex clearly still has difficulty putting sentences together, but he obviously was so thrilled about the honor and the chance to be in Springfield he didn’t want to leave the stage when Chris finished comments.

Chris broke up the room wondering if it were more shocking Tex wasn’t in 30 years ago or that Dennis didn’t have to wait another 30 years to get in. Dennis apparently loved the comment and broke up laughing as he wore his Hall of Fame blazer, which is fairly safe to say he won’t wear again, over a skin tight tank top with sweat pants and a scarf.

Rodman later likened Winter to James Naismith for all Winter has done for the game and helping kids.

Since the blazer presentation was televised on NBA-TV, the Hall of Fame requested “business casual” dress from media. Given Dennis’ attendance, no one much paid any attention to that.

Dennis also wore dark sun glasses, a baseball cap, Converse sneakers and argyle socks. I’d left a similar outfit home by mistake, though I do wear dark glasses a lot myself because of age related dry eyes. I assume that was Dennis’ excuse as well.

A few years ago, when it didn’t appear Rodman was going to get into the Hall of Fame, he told an interviewer if he ever did, he was going to come naked.

Hall of Fame officials did have, as one said, a little talk with Dennis about his fashion plans, and Dennis said he was planning to wear clothes and would tone down his act, which he did concede later with reporters was mostly an act.

Thursday’s was his casual, everyday attire which Dennis said he’d have been wearing wherever he was as of late. There were the usual piercings, of course, which actually look natural now on him.

“Tomorrow (for induction) will be totally different,” Rodman said. “It will be totally out there. You’ll think Elton John is on stage. It will all be in good taste, good fun. I’m not going to go over the top, wear a dress or something like that. I have too much respect (for the Hall of Fame). It will be something elaborate, something cool.”

I think from now on everyone should declare before induction they won’t wear a dress. The guys, anyway.

And that outfit has been on everyone’s mind as much as the annual Paris fashions. OK, or not.

I talked to one Hall of Famer who said he wasn’t planning on attending this year, but changed his mind to see what Dennis would do.

“If Dennis wears a dress and looks better than me, I’m going to beat him,” joked fellow inductee Edwards during her comments.

Tex was clearly feeling so good about the day he attended the follow up press conference, offering clipped comments along with Chris.

The laconic Gilmore said he’d try not to break down during his comments Friday and conceded growing up a day like this never occurred to him.

“The dream was to have food,” Gilmore said.

But it was Dennis who commanded most of the stage and attention, as he often did, and it was not only a fashion, but verbal tour de force, as Dennis reflected on not being a good enough parent and having his own mother attend the ceremonies, even though they are estranged and don’t speak.

Those who know Dennis know he is shy when not performing, and he did insist Dennis the outrageous cross dresser is a character he plays more than who he is. But Dennis did say he’s most fond of his three years in Chicago because the Bulls and the community allowed him to be who he was and wanted to be and supported that.

He mentioned the greatest influences in his life, the male role model figures he never had growing up in a scattered Texas upbringing as Phil Jackson, who will present Dennis at the ceremony Friday, the late Chuck Daly, James Rich from the Oklahoma family that took him in so he could attend college and make his way to the NBA despite being in his 20’s, and Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

In his own way, Dennis agreed with the critics, as some have long questioned his credentials for the Hall of Fame, though his defensive presence and winning record suggest he deserves the recognition.

“I really didn’t play the game to go into the Hall of Fame,” Dennis said. “My job was to win ball games, have a good time and take care of my family. The Hall of Fame happening, it’s great. If it didn’t, I can’t do anything about it. I was more proud to see Michael, Scottie, Phil, Tex, even Jerry Buss. They are the ones who helped me along the way. My speech will be about other people. Not about me. My career was about other people.”

Well, there was a bit of that “look at me” personality, and Dennis does admit he regrets a lot of that.

“Dennis Rodman had fun, had a good time,” said Dennis Rodman (as written by Sam Smith). “Without the people to embrace and enjoy, there would be no Dennis Rodman. One day my kid will come here and can point to his dad being in the Hall of Fame. That’s the big thing.

“The one regret I have is being a father,” Rodman said, though not that he is one. “Basketball, I never would change anything. Off the court is a whole different thing, bro. (Not) being there more than anything, being selfish. Instead of being King Creole (I didn’t quite get that one, either), the clown, the jester… if I took a few more days, weeks, to be (a better father), be a great human being instead of being a great athlete, I’d probably have been a better person.”

Heavy, bro.

Rodman, curiously, always has been a person who, while drawing attention to himself, is really shy and doesn’t like the attention, clearly an inner battle which has taken up most of his 50 years.

So Rodman said he is a little surprised he’s in the Hall of Fame, though it’s as much not wanting to talk about himself while his pride suggests he believes he belongs for what he accomplished for his teams.

“I’m in the Hall of Fame averaging five points,” Rodman said with a laugh (perhaps not funny to some of those not in). “I’m sure everyone here averaged at least in double figures (scoring). I think I deserve to be recognized. I don’t think I deserved to be recognized.”

So you wonder why he acted as he did at times?

“It is hard for me to take compliments,” Dennis went on. “I don’t take compliments well. I’d rather someone else be in the Hall of Fame. I didn’t want to be an All-Star. I wanted to play ball, have a lot of fun and take care of my family. Everything has come to me I’ve got to get my mind there and say, ‘This is your life now. Go take care of what’s going on.’ I know my kids will enjoy this.”

He did add it was “another three-peat, Michael Scottie and Dennis.”

Dennis is glad to be in the Hall of Fame, humbled, as it were. It’s just that he expresses things differently.

Like prominently mentioning Vedder, Motley Crue and Stern in his opening remarks Thursday.

But Dennis insisted he was motivated by Vedder.

“His songs,” Dennis continued of the rocker. “I’ve been listening to Pearl Jam 20 years. Every time I went to the gym, every time I went to a game, sat in the locker room (towel over his head, by the way), I’d listen to Eddie. So much of him is speaking straight through. The trials and tribulations he went through, like mine. You can feel the vibe. It motivated me the last 20 years.”

Hey, look, I get it. Did you ever really sit and listen to Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party?

“It’s hard to entertain and be an athlete and play smart basketball all at the same time,” said Rodman. “You’ve got to know how to put the game of basketball first. I put the game of basketball first. I did what I did and enjoyed my life. I’m thankful I went to Chicago. The guys understood me and let me be the person I wanted to be. I can’t thank those guys enough and the people of Chicago. I’m relevant. I haven’t had a job in 15 years and I’m still relevant.

“People can never say Dennis Rodman was a danger to society, they can never say Dennis Rodman carried a gun or knife, beat women, went to jail. I respected the game of basketball,” said Rodman. “And I believe that’s why I’m here. I’m not trying to steal the spotlight by wearing stuff like this. This is the way I dress every day. I love living life free, for me to shine every damn day.”

Dennis did say he is going to try to avoid the curse words in his off the cuff comments Friday as he’ll have no prepared remarks, though he did say Family Guy and the Simpsons use some vile language that he might borrow.

But Rodman also was curiously reflective, saying he’s most proud of his mother attending despite their lifelong differences (she evicted him from their home to the point he was homeless and eventually ended with the Riches in Oklahoma).

“For her to come here and swallow pride and see her firstborn get into the Hall of Fame, even though we don’t get along and talk, but to represent her and acknowledge her, people don’t think I have a mother or family (Yes, Dennis definitely speaks in run on sentences). So people will hear me talk of her,” Rodman said.

Dennis admitted that the character of Dennis Rodman actually is a character he created.

“A lot of people have two sides to them,” he said. “I have the public side. I have the shy side.”

He said it started when things were falling apart in his life with the Pistons breaking up and getting a divorce from his first wife, Annie. Had he not entered into that so-called fantasy persona, Dennis suggested it could have been unfortunate results.

But now Dennis said he’s glad he can use the opportunity to “tell people I’m not just an actor or entertainer or performer. Just let people know I have a family, I have cool kids, I do have a wife living. I do have a mother living and I can thank people who have been through thick and thin with me. A lot of people thought I’d fade away. I’m sure a lot of sportswriters said he’s gonna die pretty soon. I’m here today and tomorrow.”

So the Hall of Fame?

“Probably ranks in the top five,” Dennis said.

You don’t hear that much from Hall of Fame inductees. But you never heard much of what you hear from Dennis. He is an original, and every Hall of Fame can use one of those.

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