Rodzilla on the rampage: Inside the sports-entertainment career of Dennis Rodman

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June 28, 2013

On the night of June 8, 1998, Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were in the middle of a grueling practice session in the United Center, running drills after their loss to the Utah Jazz in the first game of the NBA Finals. Dennis Rodman — the team’s problematic, but effective starting forward — was some 300 miles away in Auburn Hills, Mich., beating a man with a steel chair.

Less than two weeks away from winning his fifth NBA championship ring, Rodman had opted to blow off practice in favor of appearing on WCW’s Monday Nitro — then the most-watched program on cable television. “The Worm” was scheduled to team with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan against Diamond Dallas Page and Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone at July 2’s Bash at the Beach pay-per-view. He had to get his licks in when he could.

Watch Rodman in tag team action at Bash at the Beach '98

“They whipped the [hell] out of me with those chairs,” Page told WWEClassics.com. “But, that night, the highlight of [“SportsCenter”] was what? Dennis Rodman no-shows practice and ends up on Nitro. That was huge.”

The Chicago Bulls organization fined Rodman $10,000 for his actions, but it hardly mattered. For the first time in his career, the famously difficult Rodman was being embraced by an industry that could appreciate a 6-foot-7 dude with hair like a scoop of rainbow sherbet. Not only was Rodzilla being encouraged to play up the flamboyance and arrogance that made him the NBA’s problem child — he was being rewarded for it.

“The scuttlebutt was he got $1.2 million for the three matches he signed for,” former WCW producer Kevin Sullivan said.

Rodman had made his entry into professional wrestling a year before he skipped practice, pledging his allegiance to The Hulkster’s New World Order in a prerecorded segment on the March 10, 1997, edition of Nitro. It had already been a banner year for The Worm’s growing cult of personality. In those first months alone, he released his second autobiography (complete with a cover photo of him nude and painted like a tiger), co-starred with Jean Claude Van Damme in the action movie “Double Team” and kicked a courtside cameraman in the crotch, resulting in a $25,000 fine and an 11-game suspension.

Witness Rodman joining the nWo

It was all part of the “bad as I wanna be” ethos Rodman had been pushing since he came out of his shell during a 1993 run with the San Antonio Spurs. Before that revolutionary year, Rodman had been a janitor-turned-defensive marvel for the hardscrabble Detroit Pistons of the late ’80s and early ’90s. His preternatural rebounding abilities earned him respect, but when he hit the court in Texas with platinum hair, a nose ring and tattoos — long before inked sleeves were requisite in the league — he became the NBA’s most recognizable player next to Michael Jordan.

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