For the most part, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts is an example of diversity gone wrong. In its well intentioned efforts to include all time greats from the ranks of international basketball, the NCAA, and various levels of women’s hoops, the Hall gives all time NBA greats a short shrift. The finalists for the Class of 2011, which were announced during All Star Weekend , continues this absurd trend by overlooking Reggie Miller, one of the greatest long distance shooters in the sport’s history and author of not one but two of the greatest comebacks ever in playoff games at Madison Square Garden.
But let’s give credit where credit is due, Dennis Rodman is one of this year’s finalists. It’s a brave nomination and he deserves induction. Yes, Rodman is a kook. Even during his playing days, it seemed as if he sported more hair colors than he scored points, and he was always the most physical player on the court, and often way too physical. He earned his nickname, The Worm; if you were an opponent he was sure to annoy you. Off the court his wardrobe, which often included cross dressing sometimes made Lady Gaga seem like a J Crew model by comparison. Since his playing days, he has participated in one variety of reality TV series after another. He’s not someone I’d want living next door.
But that is not or at least should not be the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame. It’s what a player does on the court during their career that matters most, and in that regard Rodman is indisputably one of the all time greats of the game. His career is a great example of what desire, passion and a strong work ethic can accomplish. He entered the league with the Detroit Pistons in the 1986-’87 season when he was 25 years old. Even for the mid ’80s, he was old for a rookie, and he took a few years to find his footing in the league. The 6′ 7” forward wasn’t a great shooter, but he was an enthusiastic and skilled defender. Then when he became a full time starer at the age of 29 in the 1990-’91 season, his career really took off. For seven straight seasons, from 1991-’92 until 1997-’98, he led the league in rebounding. It’s one of the most amazing feats in sports history. At 6′ 7”210 pounds, he was usually one of the fourth or fifth tallest player on the court. Yet he consistently outrebounded the giants. He was proficient at watching the spin of the shot and predicting what side of the rim it carom to.
The ’90s were a golden age for big men in the NBA, it encompasses the peak era of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olujawon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, and yet Rodman grabbed more rebounds than any of them. His averaged 16.8 rebounds per game during that span. For a point of reference, none of the NBA rebound leaders since then, Chris Webber, Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard or Kevin Love, have averaged more than 16 boards per contest. Simply put pound for pound, inch for inch, Dennis Rodman was the greatest rebounder in the history of the NBA.
In addition his hustle, defense and scrappy play made him integral parts of two iconic NBA champions. He was a key part of the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys who won the title in 1989 and 1990. He played three seasons with the Chicago Bulls from 1996-’98, and they won the title each year. Rodman’s rebounding and rugged defense was a vital part of their volatile mix. His Hall of Fame credentials are pristine; it shouldn’t have taken ten years after he left the game to get his due. The announcement of this year’s inductees will be made during the Final Four weekend in April.
Of course the Hall of Fame may be bracing for the kind of show that will happen when he is inducted, but isn’t that the beauty of diversity?