The commemoration of 1995-96 Chicago Bulls continues with a look at the reaction to the news that Dennis Rodman was coming to Chicago.
“Here’s Dennis, Potential Menace,” read a headline in the Chicago Tribune on October 6, 1995. I wasn’t the biggest Will Perdue fan, but I remember feeling confused and disappointed when I heard that he had been traded to San Antonio for Dennis Rodman. That seems rather silly twenty years later, but my fifteen year old self just could not reconcile the fact that Rodman was a former Piston.
How was I or any Bulls fan supposed to cheer for this guy? I was young during the height of the Bulls/Pistons rivalry, but I hated Detroit (along with the color blue) and despised every player on the team because they made me cry every year when they brutalized my favorite team. I was still salty at Rodman’s shove of Scottie Pippen in 1991 and, lets face it, the man had gotten just plain weird.
I wasn’t alone either. A quick browse through the Chicago Tribune reveals that Bernie Lincicome felt any number of horrid characters from Typhoid Mary to Jeffery Dahmer would have been a better acquisition. He also compared Phil Jackson’s position as coach and disciplinarian to that of the Hindenburg pilot and Sam Smith said Rodman’s joining the Bulls was the volatile combination of the sports “greatest player” with its “most outrageous” player. Other characterizations of Rodman included the “anti-Bull,” the “crowbar in with the silverware,” “beyond weird,” and “grotesque.” Also present was the understandable fear that Rodman would wreck an already fragile team chemistry combined with longing for the day when, for the Bulls, character was king.
Not everyone saw disaster on the horizon nor saw Rodman as a fulfillment of end times prophesy. Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson saw the power forward the team missed the year before. To Bob Verdi, “adding Rodman…to this roster is a transaction with virtually no downside” since the Bulls could simply cut ties with him after the season. Mike Royko wondered “why the man was causing so much emotional trauma,” and Rick Kogan viewed Rodman as a necessary and “fitting addition to the long list of likable lunatics” that had thrived in Chicago over the years.
Most fans, including myself, eventually warmed to Rodman, but by the time he played his first game in the United Center some were already piercing things, tattooing themselves (real and fake), and wearing colorful hair. The imitations included Benny the Bull’s purple head, an eleven year old boy who wore number 91.5, red hair, and a fake tattoo and called himself “Rodboy,” and a young man with multiple piercings who, according to the Tribune, just really liked Rodman.
One fan from Highland Park enjoyed the game in his number ten San Antonio jersey, while another adoring female fan brought a sign to the United Center dedicated to “The Worm” with the catchy phrase, “We have the bait to catch a championship.” In addition there was not a media report throughout the preseason that did not include some update on his hair color, clothing, or any other activity, whether it be his choice of finger nail polish (violet) in his first United Center appearance, or his first rebound.
Five games into the season Stephen Cvengros said the Bulls had “an awe-some chemical reaction that could explode to a fourth NBA title or go kaput.” That “what if” was the story as the season opened. Rodman’s teammates were optimistic but cautious, the Spurs were glad he was gone, and Bulls’ fans, according to teammate, friend, and chaperone Jack Haley, made Rodman’s lunches at Chicago restaurants problematic. By opening night Rodman had switched his hair color to blonde and if most Bulls fans were like myself, they were asking “am I a hypocrite if I hang this Rodman picture?” The Worm had his moments during the season but the doomsday predictions turned out to be overblown, and I, like most fans, came to enjoy Rodman despite the baggage that came with him. After the Bulls beat the Hornets on opening night, Michael Jordan told Craig Sager, “we asked Dennis to come on this basketball court and give us one hundred and ten percent, we don’t care what color his hair is.” Today, the union between Dennis Rodman and the Bulls is what I believe to be the second best transaction in franchise history, but twenty years ago his arrival was compared to an “old soldiers’ reunion between General Norman Schwartzkopf and Saddam Hussein,” and if you are under thirty years old you will just have to look that one up.
Follow @jlw771 and Brandon Pence @thebullscharge and check out The Bulls Zone for our season-long commemoration of the 1995-96 Bulls.