Dennis Rodman will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, along with Artis Gilmore, Chris Mullin and others. Rodman was voted in in his second year of eligibility, but on his first ballot. (Yep, he went from missing the finalist ballot to getting in one year apart. The Basketball Hall of Fame totally makes sense.) He has five NBA championships, two Defensive Player of the Year trophies, seven rebounding titles, seven first-team All-Defense nods and two All-Star appearances.
He never scored much; in fact, he broke 10 points per game for a season just once in his career. On the court, he was the least glamorous player imaginable: he rebounded, he defended ... and that was it. (OK, he also fouled. And technically fouled.)
This is the central conflict in Rodman's career as a whole: he was the least glamorous star player on the court, and made up for it by being comically glamorous off the court. Between the painted lines, he was the furthest thing from a diva. He did the things the divas typically didn't like to do so that the divas could focus on the glamorous parts of the game: scoring points, taking outside shots, dropping assists. Off the court, Dennis Rodman wore dresses and make-up and leopard print. There was a great gulf here.
On the former point, that Rodman was unglamorous on the court, the esteemed Jack McCallum writes for SI.com that Rodman was so unglamorous on the court that he does not belong in the Hall. (The column was written and published in April, but SI brought it back out this week.)
Rodman himself was surprised that the Pistons retired his jersey last Friday, since he played a supporting role during his seven seasons behind Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson. After joining the Bulls, he played a supporting role behind Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and sometimes even Ron Harper and Steve Kerr.
The Hall of Fame is not for supporting players.
This, to me, is a fundamental misunderstanding of basketball itself.
McCallum goes on to note Rodman's low scoring and shooting numbers, and presents an argument that is usually reversed and trained on high-offense, low-defense players.
When a player is not involved in the offense, he has plenty of opportunities to play hunker-down D and grab offensive rebounds. I would not go so far as to say that Rodman's offensive rebounding numbers are "padded," but I will insist that they would never have been so high had he been a viable scorer.
This is the argument that the Pistons and Bulls had to play 4-on-5 on offense because Rodman was such a minus. But the Pistons and Bulls won at amazing rates! Rodman's poor offense was not such a drain that it prevented the Bulls from winning at a higher rate in its second three-peat (the one with Rodman instead of Horace Grant). The argument implies that Rodman would be more worthy of Hall induction if he spent more time on the court trying to do things he was bad at (scoring, shooting, creating offense) instead of things he was wonderful at (rebounding, defense), even though the Pistons and Bulls each had multiple players who were excellent at the "creating offense and scoring" tasks. Basically, Rodman is dinged for doing exactly what his coaches and team needed him to do.
It's patently unfair, and it furthers the troublesome view that points are the only stat that truly matters. I'd thought we were making progress on that. Scoring and all of the things that came with scoring are important, of course ... but defense and all of the things that come with defense are as important. Rodman did things at both ends that made the Bulls a much better team; 72 wins, 69 wins don't lie.
Rodman will be remembered as one of the greatest rebounders and defenders ever, rebounding and defense are important parts of basketball ... ergo, Rodman was a great contributor to basketball.
If Steve Nash can win two MVPs playing on one side of the ball, Rodman belongs in the Hall. To argue otherwise is to unfairly diminish the importance of defense and rebounding. It's time to stop paying lip service to those parts of the game, and inducting Rodman is a great way to do it.
POLITICS OF STATE
This week a few stories about Team USA at the London 2012 Olympics have come out. First, Jerry Colangelo dismissed concerns that the team could be short-staffed should the NBA lockout persist through all of this season and into next summer. Then, word spread that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James would rep Team USA regardless of the labor situation.
Is this a problem? Team USA and the NBA have become virtually indistinguishable since Colangelo took over in 2005. Colangelo is considered one of Stern's closest allies in basketball, and has been since his days running the Phoenix Suns. To play for Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski is essentially to play for a Stern machine, to expand the NBA brand on a volunteer basis.
But it's also something guys like Kobe and LeBron can't miss. The public relations reaction to players like that skipping Team USA duty at an Olympic Games would be devastating, especially if these players do sign contracts to play professionally overseas in the interim. The top players have no real choice but to grin and bear it.
The Hook is a daily NBA column written by Tom Ziller that runs on SBNation.com Monday through Friday. See the archives.