Thursday, January 21, 1999

Worm turns again; now he's unretired




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dennis Rodman's retirement party has been postponed. So there's still time to pick out that perfect drag queen ensemble.

        Basketball's bizarre rebounding demon reversed his day-old decision to abandon hoops Wednesday, at least until further notice.

        That's what it said on his web site, and that's what his agent confirmed.

        “I know yesterday I said I was history,” Rodman said, “and with the NBA lockout and everything going on, I really thought I should stop playing. But I've been reviewing my options.”

        In short, the Worm has turned. Instead of devoting himself to wrestling, cinema, and Carmen Electra, Rodman is now inclined to keep playing if he can find work with a contending team.

        “Chicago, New York and L.A. are all cities I'd love to play in. Besides, there's the one thing I've always told my fans I would do in my last game that I still haven't done ... I still have to come back for at least one more game so that I can get buck naked on the court.”

        Rodman was bound to return to basketball eventually, for his other pursuits were not worthy of his true talent. He is an artist of sorts, but he doesn't work in every medium.

        As a wrestler, Rodman is just another tattooed novelty act, neither as menacing as Stone Cold Steve Austin nor as glib as Goldberg.

        As an actor, he is horribly miscast. (See Double Team. Better yet, don't see it.)

        “If (Rodman) was on fire,” said the distinguished thespian, Shaquille O'Neal, “he couldn't act as if he were burning.”

        Rodman's enduring appeal to the enchanting Ms. Electra falls under the heading of Frog-Gets-Princess. It is beyond our meager powers of comprehension.

Boards, but not boring
        Yet Rodman's ability to grab rebounds is plain, remarkable and unrivaled. He has been the NBA's leading rebounder a record seven years in a row, and it is this astonishing achievement that makes the rest of his look-at-me life worth watching.

        Rodman is the Bambino of boxing out. He is the Elvis of elbows. He is the Michael Jordan of basketball grunt work. Because of this, he can also get away with being the Ru Paul of the paint.

        Whether he could hold anyone's interest without the validation basketball brings him is the question. Jim Brown was the finest running back of his time, maybe of all time, but his movie career peaked shortly after his break with the Cleveland Browns, in The Dirty Dozen.

        Rodman's future is more daunting. Even if he had the talent or the training to make it in Hollywood, he could never find a role more challenging than playing himself.

        With Jordan retired and Scottie Pippen headed for the Houston Rockets, the Bulls dynasty is effectively dismantled. Keeping Rodman, at 37, would be an expensive exercise in nostalgia for a management team unusually short on sentiment.

        Still, the New York Knicks could use Rodman's muscle in their quest to secure a title for Patrick Ewing. The Los Angeles Lakers might facilitate his transition to film, and Rodman might facilitate Shaq's transition from epic underachiever to champion. Hard on the (stiletto) heels of Jordan's retirement, the NBA without Rodman would be duller than Magic Johnson's talk show.

He needs hoops
        Where else can we look for brick free throws and feather boas? Who else has the panache to treat his body as a pin cushion, his hair as a canvas and his career as a carnival?

        “Chicago without Michael Jordan might as well be Cincinnati,” Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome wrote this week.

        Chicago without Dennis Rodman might as well be Dayton.

        “They say Elvis is dead,” Rodman said some years ago. “He's not dead. He's just a different color. He's 6-8, 225 pounds, plays basketball and he's black. I say I'm Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin all wrapped up into one. If I die early, I'll be just like those guys.”

        If he retires from basketball, Dennis Rodman is nobody.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your emial at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE