An interesting thing happened the other day in the first round of the Basketball Hall of Fame voting: Dennis Rodman was named a finalist, and Reggie Miller – he of the 25,279 points – wasn’t.
It was interesting mostly because of the travesty that took place 15 years ago, when the latest Dream Team was being assembled for the Olympics. For some reason, there was no room on the roster for the Bulls’ Rodman, the rebounder and defender extraordinaire, but there was for Pacers’ Miller, the oh-so-sweet jump shooter. Granted, they weren’t exactly vying for the same spot – Rodman was a small forward and Miller an off guard – but from a pure basketball standpoint, it seemed like the triumph of style over substance.
After all, there were plenty of players on the squad who could knock down three-pointers, Mitch Richmond and John Stockton among them. But who else in recent hoops history has had Rodman’s skill set? That same year, 1996, he won the fifth of his seven straight rebounding titles, an NBA record. He also made the All-Defensive first team for the seventh time (after previously winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards). In other words, he was the greatest retriever of missed shots since Wilt Chamberlain and arguably the best stopper of his generation.
And he didn’t make the Olympic team.
Miller, meanwhile, a player with fewer dimensions and not much taste for the nitty-gritty, got to go off to Atlanta and win the gold medal. It still makes me mad. (Not to single out Reggie, but honestly! Did there really need to be five guards on the roster – six if you count hybrid Scottie Pippen?)
It just flew in the face of everything basketball coaches have been telling their teams forever. “If you’re the best defensive player in this locker room, you will make the squad.” Or: “If you’re the best rebounder, there will be a place for you.”
There wasn’t a place for Dennis Rodman, though.
Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. Dennis the Menace was kind of a traveling circus with his tattoos, piercings and hair every color of the spectrum. His relationship with Madonna was kaput by then, but he would later dally with Carmen Electra. At that time, USA Basketball was desperately concerned with image, especially after some misbehavior by American players at the 1994 worlds. As Rodman put it in his autobiography, “I Should Be Dead By Now,” “the selection committee went for Tom Sawyer, not Huckleberry Finn.”
But here’s the thing: Rodman’s attention-seeking never seemed to interfere with winning. He played on a 63-win team in Detroit, a 62-win team in San Antonio, 72-, 69- and 62-win teams in Chicago and won five rings. Once the game started, he was pretty much the perfect teammate, happily doing the dirty work – such as guarding Larry Bird – and letting everybody else have the offensive glory. Say what you will about his off-court theatrics, The Worm (his alternate nickname) played very well with others.
So it’s comforting to see him get this close to the Hall of Fame – while Miller waits. Reggie had his attractions, no question. (Just ask consummate Knicks fan Spike Lee, who kept up a running dialogue with him from his courtside seat.) But ask yourself: Who was the more exceptional player, Rodman or Miller? Is it really that tough a call?
I mean, another Reggie Miller has already come along – Ray Allen, the Celtics’ sharpshooter. We’ve yet to see the next Dennis Rodman, though, and it could be a while before he surfaces. Assuming, that is, he ever does.
THE 10 HIGHEST SEASON REBOUNDING AVERAGES IN THE LAST 30 YEARS
18.7 Dennis Rodman, Pistons, 1991-92
18.3 Dennis Rodman, Pistons, 1992-93
17.3 Dennis Rodman, Spurs, 1993-94
16.8 Dennis Rodman, Spurs, 1994-95
16.1 Dennis Rodman, Bulls, 1996-97
15.5 Kevin Willis, Hawks, 1991-92
15.4 Ben Wallace, Pistons, 2002-03
15.3 Moses Malone, 76ers, 1982-83
15.0 Dennis Rodman, Bulls, 1997-98
14.9 Dennis Rodman, Bulls, 1995-96