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Dennis Rodman never had a conversation with Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen in Chicago

Sep 21, 2011, 2:33 PM EST

Dennis Rodman

Sport lends itself to the romantic. That much is true, and it was true long before legendary talents turned sportswriters into scribes of myths, before Robert Redford ever swung a bat, and before the imagination of a daydreaming kid allowed him to fill the gaps in the life of his favorite athlete. We sports fans find allegory or create it. We delve into meaning or fabricate it. We believe that there is something within this field of play, within these lines and these stadiums, that makes the game a deserving vessel of greater purpose.

Sometimes, those romantic inclinations are right on the money. There really are grand tales of triumph and redemption in this sport and all others. There are heroes, in a sense, and there is real emotion that floods from the movement of a bouncing ball. But other times, we’re let down by what is trumpeted as real. The white knights of the NBA are often only so because of the lighting in the room; bright bulbs, after all, can make a legend out of what is only a man. Everything isn’t always perfect, and more importantly, everything isn’t always a nesting doll for some greater, hidden meaning. Sometimes it’s just about basketball. It’s a man with a job that may or may not also be his passion. It’s a victory of self-contained value, rather than the climax of a much larger plot line. Or, in the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, it’s a business venture between colleagues, rather than a story of shared experience, collective ascendence, and fellowship.

Dennis Rodman sat down for an interview on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger,” and discussed his relationships with the stars, the core, and the entire roster of the fabled Chicago Bulls teams he was a part of in the mid-90s:

HESINGER: Your then teammate when you were with the Bulls, Scottie Pippen, was quoted as saying “I’ve never had a conversation with Dennis. I’ve never had a conversation with Dennis in my life, so I don’t think it’s anything new.” Why not speak to your teammates then?

RODMAN: Well, I think it was important for me to go in there and win. I don’t have a job to speak to people. My job is to collate and understand how people work and make people believe in the fact that [I] belong there. Talking to people will come. Relating to people will come. If they see you performing and doing your job and being with the group, that’s all I want. Me and Scottie — we’re cool today. We’re a little older, a little wiser. We’re cool today. And me and Scottie never had a conversation. Me and Scottie and Michael never had a conversation in three years in Chicago. Only time we had a conversation was on the court, and that was it.

Rodman, he of the ever-shifting hair color and endless theatrics, has never been the image of simplicity. Yet here, a meaningful bond is reduced to a workplace arrangement. His job wasn’t to talk to Scottie or Michael, so he didn’t. Their relationship didn’t go beyond the limits of the game, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s no rule that mandates core players to swap Christmas cards, much less share a few words.

But it’s the restraint of Rodman’s relationship with his most notable teammates that sticks out. It’s not that they weren’t friends. They didn’t have a conversation. Rodman was so committed to the limits of his interactions with MJ and Pippen that he didn’t bother to stop by their locker for a chat in three years.

There are teams in which the players form an infrastructure by way of their relationships (the Thunder are perhaps the best contemporary example of a squad defined by something akin to brotherhood, though similar dynamics can be traced through plenty of squads), but  the Bulls were not one of them. Jordan’s aloofness has since been pointed out in several books and many a piece online. Pippen’s complex as a second fiddle has become a part of his lore. And Rodman, always a bit of an oddball, is now the man who wouldn’t speak to those whom he shared the court and three titles with, regardless of their stature on the Bulls or in the NBA.

Collectively, they accomplished things other players and teams could only dream of. Yet the lines that connected one Bulls player to another were not quite as vibrant as immortal photos, television broadcasts, and rosy reflections would lead us to believe. The 90s were not, it seems, an age for the romantics; it was a time of greatness in sport that understood its boundaries, and tremendous talents that reinvigorated the game with piles of wins, big personalities, and in some cases, few words between them.

  1. 00maltliquor - Sep 21, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Interesting. Wierd. Strange. Impossible?

    • liltmac2003 - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:34 AM

      It’s interesting, weird, strange, but indeed possible. If they did have a conversation outside of the game, it would go something like this…

      Jordan: Man, that was a great win yesterday.
      Pippen: Yeah, it really was.
      Jordan: UGH! I just love winning. Other 31 franchises should just quit.
      Pippen: We do have a strong team.
      Jordan: I had..what..54 points..not bad. More happy we got the W.
      Rodman: So I’m thinking about marrying myself.

      • tstreet - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:10 AM

        liltmac,

        Yo, that sh*t is funny as hell.

      • trevor123698 - May 24, 2014 at 3:55 PM

        haven’t you ever heard his teammates speak. jordan wanted the points and took shots from others to get them. I can quote people on the team for this one

  2. asublimeday - Sep 21, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    I’ve never had a conversation with Jordan or Pippen either. What gives?

  3. goforthanddie - Sep 21, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Can’t imagine Jordan/Rodman had very much in common to yak about anyway.

    • therealhtj - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:00 PM

      They both seemed to love the Ladies. What else you gonna talk about in the locker room?

      • goforthanddie - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:21 PM

        Rodman seemed more interested in dressing in ladies’ clothing.

  4. philtration - Sep 21, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    I could not care less if they had a conversation while playing together.
    I don’t care who sat next to each other on the bus or plane.
    I don’t give a damn about who played cards together.

    Living in Chicago, I watched every game… they dominated the NBA and they were entertaining as hell.
    That was more than enough for me.
    The rest is just fluff for guys that want their sports stars to be more than what they really are.
    People doing a job for money.

    • philtration - May 24, 2014 at 2:36 AM

      Exactly….
      I saw what may have been the best NBA team ever and that is all that matters.
      Not only did they dominate the league, they were exciting to watch and fans all over the country wanted to see them.
      It was great and this means nothing at all.

      • jameskocian - May 28, 2014 at 8:40 AM

        I like how you agree with your own point.

  5. originalsmasher - Sep 22, 2011 at 12:45 AM

    I find it to be a very rare quality among men. Everything else aside but the singular focus to just get the job done. and they did.

  6. ws0204397 - Sep 25, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    I think people need to realize that up until Rodman was signed, he was hated in Chicago due to his days with the “Bad Boys” in Detroit. I remember Rodman being called a villian on the WGN Basketball promos on tv. So it’s not hard to imagine that Jordan and Pippen might have still had some bad blood.

    • macka4 - May 26, 2014 at 11:59 PM

      Why would one want to have a discussion with Rodman? And Rodman is right, he was there to perform first on the court.

  7. anhdazman - Oct 23, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    There are plenty of people that I work with at work and I don’t have conversations with, besides work related subjects and meetings. The important thing is mutual respect at the work place. After all there is a business side to basketball, but in the end, one single common goal. To win. No one did it better at that time then the Bulls. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman went along with their business and got the job done.
    Conversely, you get a guy like Terrell Owens in a locker room, then all H@## breaks loose.

  8. The Prophet - Nov 11, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    This is the NBA not sports. If kids can learn anything from this horrible organization is that you don’t need sportsmanship, goodwill, bonds, or friendship to win. Kobe Bryant alienated and mistreated his teammates for years, threatening to be traded if they didn’t make certain roster switches and acted like a total baby and pissed off all his teammates. And guess what, they won 2 NBA titles that way. Prior to that he and Shaq had a virtual feud and won 3.

    This doesn’t surprise me that the Bulls operated on a similar business-like fashion, because it worked. Michael Jordan was never known as a Magic type personality, Jordan wasn’t known as this great emotional leader and voice of everybody, he just played well, the organization bought into it and they ran their business and won. The NBA is about winning despite all of your moral issues. This is why I don’t watch NBA in this house with my kids, because the morals you teach directly conflict with what works in the NBA. The NBA is definitiely for adults.

  9. quizguy66 - Nov 22, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Rodman was really good on Celebrity Mole.

    -QG

  10. bbrace13 - Nov 25, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    I was a big fan of those great Bulls team of the ’90s, but I have to admit being disappointed in hearing about the “business” like relationship between it’s stars. I suppose if winning is the goal, you can’t argue with results, but I guess my personal view is that the value of sports is much more than records or titles. Sports can teach us a lot of important lessons about how to be successful in life, values like hard work, unselfishness, and handling adversity are just a few. As much as I love to watch and play sports, if values like that are not being stressed and modeled, I don’t care to be involved as a participant or a fan.

  11. teamworkdoc - May 28, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    What is very interesting is how different this is to what happened when Rodman was in Detroit and likely speaks to deeper issues in his life. Rodman was part of a family in Detroit, even considering Chuck Daly to be the father figure he never truly had. The bond of kinship that he found there likely created the most consistent and stable part of his life. It is likely that after leaving that team, he was unwilling to try to “replace” that bond with others (as he probably was unwilling to accept that he could ever have that tight of a “family” ever again), thus he maintained distance and spiraled into an interesting series of life-decisions that allowed him to keep space between himself and others.

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