After ESPN’s The Last Dance spent its first two installments focusing on the Bulls’ Holy Trinity of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson, Sunday night’s episodes put the team’s trickster demigod Dennis Rodman in his favorite place: the spotlight.
As the documentary reminds us, Rodman was a singular character in the Jordan-era NBA, an unheralded player who did the dirtiest jobs on the Bad Boy Pistons, then reinvented himself as a hair-dyeing, ref-abusing, dress-wearing cartoon. He was the league’s most controversial star, but The Last Dance makes the point that Rodman was ahead of his time, not just in the tattoos and the piercings, but also in his determination to be exactly who he wanted to be. To the Bulls’ credit, they got it. “Dennis was bizarre, but what made it work was Phil and Michael’s understanding that, to make it work on the court, you had to give him some rope,” former teammate Steve Kerr recalls at the end of episode three. “And they gave him a lot of rope.”
The Last Dance covers many of Rodman’s most famous moments: his relationships with Madonna and Carmen Electra, his penchant for cross-dressing, his impromptu mid-season trips to Vegas. But Rodman being Rodman, there are still plenty more that didn’t make it in. So if you’re in need, here is a collection of weird, wonderful, and unexpected Dennis Rodman stories, with a special emphasis on the headlines that you may not have read before — another way of saying we assume you already know about the North Korea thing.
1. He was a late bloomer.
The documentary includes mention of Rodman’s background, but it’s worth going over in full. A sub-six-foot high schooler who grew up in poverty, he went unrecruited by college programs, and after graduation worked a series of odd jobs, most notably as a janitor at Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where he was fired for stealing watches on a dare. Then, he got a big break: A late growth spurt shot him up to six feet, eight inches. After spending a year at junior college, Rodman finally got a scholarship to Southeastern Oklahoma State, a Division II school. When he was selected by the Pistons in the second round of the 1986 draft, he was already 25 years old. (It took him a while to hit other milestones, too: In his memoir, Rodman wrote that he lost his virginity to a sex worker at the age of 20.)
2. He began cross-dressing as a child.
Rodman’s playing with gender performance raised plenty of eyebrows in the ‘90s, but as he wrote in his memoir Bad As I Wanna Be, it was something he’d also done as a young boy growing up in a largely female environment. “I don’t remember the first time I decided to do it as an adult,” he wrote. “It was more of a gradual thing, where it progressed from earrings and fingernails to halter tops and tight leather shorts.” For Rodman, wearing women’s clothing was about self-expression: “When I cross-dress now, it’s just another way I can show all the sides of Dennis Rodman. I’m giving you the whole package. I’m becoming the all-purpose person.”
3. Early in his NBA career, he would drive into downtown Detroit and hand $100 bills to the homeless.
“There are a lot of people out there that are more worthy of this money,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “You can’t help everybody, but you can help some people. I make millions now. What’s $250?”
4. He once took off his shoes and read a magazine on the bench.
By the end of his time in Detroit, Rodman was so mentally checked out, Michael Wilbon wrote after one game, that he looked “like he was sitting on the lido deck of a cruise ship waiting for the cabin steward to deliver a gin and juice … As God is my witness, Dennis Rodman was reading a magazine. During the game! Like he was at B. Dalton’s.”
5. His breakdown at the Pistons stadium kick-started his reinvention.
The Last Dance deals briefly with a 1993 incident where Rodman showed up at the Palace of Auburn Hills with a rifle in his car, having fallen into despair over a failed marriage and the departure of his beloved coach Chuck Daly. As he wrote in his book, rather than harm himself, Rodman decided that night to utterly remake his life: “I killed the Dennis Rodman that had tried to conform to what everybody wanted him to be.”
6. He credits legendary sideline reporter Craig Sager for saving his life.
Both men confirm that a despondent Rodman was once talked out of suicide by Sager, who’d tracked him down to a strip club to give him a heart-to-heart. (It’s unclear whether this was the same night Rodman wound up at the arena.) “He was going to do it,” Sager told Sports Illustrated. “I told him how stupid that would be.” After Sager’s death in 2016, Rodman thanked him on Twitter “for saving my life when I was in dire need of help.”
7. He was once late to a stadium opening because he was dyeing his hair.
Rodman’s new lease on life was symbolized by his experiments with eye-popping hairstyles. His first attempt came the same day as the opening of San Antonio’s Alamodome, where Rodman arrived 30 minutes behind schedule sporting a platinum-blonde look. “The damn bleach job took too long,” he recalled.
8. In a three-week span in late 1993, Rodman had three separate games in which he grabbed over 24 rebounds and scored zero points.
Episode three of The Last Dance includes a cracking sequence where Rodman explains his knack for grabbing errant balls. Never was his “relentless, kamikaze, no-holds-barred pursuit of missed shots” more apparent than in his first season with the San Antonio Spurs, where an early-season run saw Rodman combine an ultra-hot stretch on the boards with absolutely no scoring whatsoever. (In those three games he only attempted seven shots total.) His masterpiece came in a game against the Hornets on December 1, where he put up a 0-28-3 statline — the most rebounds ever for a player who didn’t score.
9. He once headbutted the Spurs’ mascot, the Coyote, during a preseason game.
“I bring excitement to the game,” he said afterwards. “Sometimes I get bored with basketball, like I know some fans do. And so I do things to make it more interesting for me, and for them.”
10. His best friend in the league was a preppy glue-guy out of UCLA.
Through his eight years in the NBA, Jack Haley was largely an end-of-rotation big man. In the words of Bulls beat writer Sam Smith, “He had a set shot and couldn’t really jump, didn’t see the floor that well, handle the ball or even take his sweats off effectively.” (And that was in his obituary!) But Haley stuck around in the league in part because he had one indispensable skill: He was, as the Times put it, “the only person who speaks fluent Rodman.” The two men first played together in San Antonio, and bonded after Rodman invited Haley and his wife to a double-date at a gay bar, where Haley impressed with his unflappability. They got so close that, after trading for Rodman, the Bulls brought Haley along too to ease his transition. He only appeared in one game in the championship 1996 season, but proved his value in the Finals by convincing Rodman not to quit on the team before the pivotal Game 6 — allegedly by telling him there’d be a fun afterparty.
11. One of his best friends, post-NBA, was the film director Penny Marshall.
The pair became pals thanks to Marshall’s frequent courtside presence at NBA games, and would spend Thanksgiving together. At the time of her 2018 death, Marshall was working on a documentary about Rodman, which had been in the works since 2012. “I think she saw a little of herself in Dennis — she’d been through difficult times, too,” Marshall’s son-in-law told THR.
12. He was once fined $50,000 for saying rude things about Mormons.
The same night as Michael Jordan’s iconic “flu game” against the Utah Jazz, Rodman was hit with the largest player fine in NBA history for complaining about the “fucking Mormons” in the stands, which violated the league’s policy against hate speech. ”If I knew it was a religious-type deal, I never would have said it,” he said later.
13. He skipped practice during the Finals to attend a professional wrestling event.
The Last Dance highlights Rodman’s habit of letting off steam by heading off to Vegas whenever he felt like it. But during the 1998 Finals, Rodman went on a different kind of vacation, blowing off a mandatory film session to appear alongside Hulk Hogan at a WCW event in Michigan.
14. He crashed a Pearl Jam concert and stayed onstage for 45 minutes.
A longtime Pearl Jam fan, Rodman in 1998 lept onstage during the band’s Dallas tour stop, and remained there, drunk and shirtless, for the bulk of their set. After attempting to perform backing vocals on “Courduroy” and “Alive,” Rodman finally left once the band cut off his mike.
15. While playing for the Mavericks, he lived with owner Mark Cuban.
Rodman’s final run in the NBA was a month-long stint with the Dallas Mavericks in 2000. Depending on who you ask, he was signed either for his rebounding ability or to help with ticket sales, but either way, Cuban was so eager for Rodman’s arrival that he let the player stay in his guest house. Rodman was released after 12 games, and a few insults thrown Cuban’s way — “He doesn’t need to be hanging around the players like he’s a coach or something” — but there were no hard feelings. Cuban credits Rodman with teaching him how to attract media attention.
16. His retirement routine: strip club all night, early-morning Starbucks run, an Equinox session, then sleeping for days.
A 2013 Broward New Times profile painted a depressing portrait of Rodman’s alcohol-fueled post-playing life. “We go to, like, five places and that’s it,” Rodman’s girlfriend told the paper.
17. He once did a radio interview while receiving oral sex.
The juiciest tidbit in Bad As I Wanna Be was an anecdote about Rodman refusing to go down on Madonna, but when it comes to his own pleasure, he has fewer boundaries: In 2013, Rodman called into a sports radio station to discuss the Miami Heat’s team chemistry, only for listeners to discover he was engaged in a rarely attempted form of multi-tasking.
18. He was fired from Celebrity Apprentice for misspelling Melania Trump’s name.
Three years before the Slovenian model became First Lady, Rodman was kicked off the long-running reality show when his team spelled her name “Milania” on a poster for her skin-care line.
19. He has broken his penis three times.
As memorably described in this video.