Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The World Needs An Antihero: Why Dennis Rodman Still Matters

Some days I think about me at 16 years old. Some days it still hurts to consider how painfully awkward and shy I was. I knew that I didn't fit in at Clear Lake High School in Houston, TX. I didn't make friends easily mainly because I saw a lot of people who simply followed whatever trend was put in front of them.

I wasn't that kid that followed the hottest gossip or listened to most popular bands. I proudly listened to Styx, possibly the most uncool band in the world. I was listening to John Coltrane's Blue Train album, countered with Pantera's Far Beyond Driven, and would swear up and down that Appetite For Destruction was the greatest hard rock album ever recorded much to the chagrin of every Nirvana fan I knew. (And it is too. This realization still makes every Cobain Fan Boy crazy, no matter how much they try to fight it.)

I paid attention in English class and I could recite full sonnets and poems by Shakespeare and Longfellow, respectively, off the top of my head.

Looking back on it, I recognize I wasn't like most people, and have come to accept the fact that I've always been a little different. Just rereading the above sentences makes me realize, yeah, that's definitely a tad abnormal.

As an adult, I moved to Albuquerque. Then to Hartford. Lots of people graduate college and dream of moving to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco in the pursuit of the big city and bigger careers.

I felt strangely guilty that I had no desire to do this. Hell, I liked New Mexico and Connecticut. I didn't understand at the time why no else did.

I've grown older now, and I've grown into my acceptance that I've always been a little different, and will continue to be a little different. But accepting this fact is far different when you're 32 than it is when you're 16. If you're a little different when you're 16, you don't really have a voice or a way to communicate how you feel yet. That voice hasn't truly matured, and that voice doesn't even really know how to eloquently state the confusion of what you're feeling.

So when you're 16, you need a voice to speak for you.

While everyone else at Clear Lake High School rooted for Michael Jordan or the home team hero, Hakeem Olajuwon, I found the voice I needed. He dyed his hair crazy colors, said wildly inappropriate things during interviews, rarely, if ever, scored during the game, and won rebounding title after rebounding title, championship after championship

He was the best defender on the greatest team of all-time, and now Dennis Rodman is just like Jordan, Olajuwon and every other guy that so many other people rooted for.

He's a Hall of Famer.

He won seven consecutive rebounding titles, the most in NBA history. He is perhaps the greatest defensive power forward ever, notoriously shutting down a young Shaq in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, tangling with Karl Malone in the 1997 and 1998 Finals and slowing down Olajuwon in his prime when David Robinson couldn't.

He won five rings in his career. Two with Detroit and three more with Chicago.

That's why Dennis Rodman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. But that's not why Dennis Rodman was famous. And that's certainly not why so many people rallied around him during his career.

Rodman was wildly successful, but completely on his own terms, and in his own way. Everyone wants to be the scorer in basketball. Everyone wants to root for the guy who scores. Rodman rarely scored, averaging just 7.3 points per game for his entire career. Rodman once remarked, "I can score 20 points if I want to, but that's not my desire."

He also shot less than 60 percent from the free throw line during his career. "I can't begin to describe the amount of crap I've taken for being a lousy free-throw shooter," Rodman lamented.
That said, Rodman focused his efforts primarily on rebounding and defense, and was inducted into Springfield as a result of approaching the game a little bit differently.

Michael Jordan wore suits after every game, regardless of the game's outcome. He was not only the world's greatest player, but commercially branded himself as a corporate icon, something every right-leaning suburbanite would appreciate.

Rodman famously cross-dressed to promote books and generally wore whatever the hell he damned well wanted to wear regardless of the game's outcome. "If I want to wear a dress, I'll wear a dress," Rodman boasted. And he did. Repeatedly.

He still sports multiple piercings, outrageous hair colors, an absurd amount of tattoos and a fashion style that make Liberace look downright reserved.

While others discreetly fooled around, Rodman had famous dalliances with Madonna and Carmen Electra. "With me," Rodman said. "Everything's right on the table."

Rodman was, in every sense of the word, unique. He was different than his peers, and in many ways, better than them as his now-Hall of Fame resume proves. Much like some kid huddled in his bedroom, playing bass and listening to uncool bands, Rodman approached everything differently and just didn't give a damn about what others thought. He rarely scored, he looked funny and he was hardly quiet about anything from his love life to his criticisms of NBA commissioner David Stern.

"The NBA's chosen ones think I'm setting a bad example?" Rodman once rhetorically asked. "I think they need to look around and stop taking themselves so seriously...The NBA believes if you play for a team and get paid by a team, you're the property of that team for 24 hours a day."

Dennis Rodman didn't just go the other way regarding so many different things. Dennis Rodman was the other way. He lived it. He personified it. And because of this, he gave every person who was a little different, looked a little different, behaved a little different, Dennis Rodman gave them hope. Perhaps more importantly, he gave them courage and acceptance to embrace who they were, and to live their life on their terms.

Not on Michael Jordan's terms. Not on David Stern's either. Nor the cool kids in the class or on the basketball court who were really just following along with what everyone else was doing. Dennis Rodman made it to Springfield by no other way but his own, and The Worm's enshrinement couldn't have come at a more prophetic time for me personally.

Recently at work, there have been some major philosophical shifts within our department. Amongst those shifts is a concerted effort for everyone to continue their formal education. Since I already have a Bachelors degree, the next step would be for me to gain my MBA.

Most people would probably pursue their MBA if their employer advised them to do so. Maybe I will someday, but I recently told my boss that probably isn't a wise idea for me right now. Frankly, I don't like the idea of sinking further into debt without the promise of gaining a better job from the MBA. Furthermore, I told them that I wanted to spend my free time working on a new website tentatively titled sportsbeerandrock.com.

The idea originally began as a documentary series that I dreamed up while I was working for ESPN. This website would allow me to write, and potentially, employ others as it relates to the subject of sports, beer and rock music. I have begun work, in earnest, on a business plan for this website.

It ain't easy, and maybe I will need my MBA just to figure out what the hell I'm going to do in certain aspects. If that's the case, I will do it because I want to do it, not because I'm property of my team for 24 hours a day.

I'm sure most people would have a hard time looking their boss in the eye and telling him that they were going to go a different way, but still somehow remain productive in the workplace. It wasn't easy, I can tell you that.

But Dennis Rodman reminded me at his Hall of Fame speech that those of us who are a little different, we are the Ones less traveled by.

I have to try.

Perhaps that will make all the difference.