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|Dennis Rodman won two titles with the Pistons, playing tough defense and rebounding.|
Just when I thought "the RuPaul of big men" couldn't be topped as far as emasculating insults hurled Chris Bosh's way, Twitter explodes with a more vicious public castration of the Miami Heat's powerless forward. Even female sport fans jumped in the humorous/sexist/crass Twitter cesspool by suggesting Bosh take his talents to the WNBA, as they watched him get punked into a 1-for-18 shooting performance Thursday against Chicago.
I found it serendipitous that 1990s pop culture references indicted Bosh's toughness and the worst shooting performance of his career in a game against a Bulls franchise trying to return to its 1990s glory. Even more interesting is that three of those Chicago championship teams featured a guy who would dye his hair, paint his fingernails and toss on the occasional dress and yet no one came close to questioning his toughness the way they do Bosh. That's because the basketball world understood that while Dennis Rodman might be a part-time drag queen and full-time drama queen, when it came to ball, there was nothing queeny about him. He was never one to shy away from physical play. In fact, he welcomed it.
The Carmelo Anthonys and Kevin Durants may have a place in the hearts of fans, but players like Rodman will always be the love of their coaches' lives. A player who can fill in the holes at a high level makes the road to the championship so much easier.
It's not that Bosh isn't a talented player, he's just miscast. What the Heat need -- grit work on the blocks -- he cannot provide. That deficiency keeps Miami from being a lock to come out of the East. It is why the Boston Celtics raised so many eyebrows when they shipped their Rodman -- Kendrick Perkins -- to Oklahoma City and why the Thunder have gone from entertaining upstarts to serious contenders.
|Ambassador Rodman has a certain ring to it.|
The phrase "role player" is always treated with a hint of dismissiveness -- they're needed but are expendable, interchangeable -- whereas superstars are invaluable, irreplaceable. Rodman is the only player in the past 25 years who was able to consistently take over a game without taking a shot. And just as there hasn't been a player to come close to Michael Jordan, Rodman too is a one-of-a-kind.
Reggie Miller not making the list of the final 12 for the Basketball Hall of Fame is a shock. But Rodman, who is on the list, not being voted in this year would be a crime.
Athletes are taught that substance is more important than style. With five rings, an NBA-record seven consecutive rebounding titles, All-Star appearances in 1990 and 1992 and a handful of individual awards and recognitions, clearly Rodman's substance is there. If he's not voted in, it'll be because of his style. It'll be because he did wig out some people with his Madonna-approved, gender-bending wardrobe choices, or the fact that his outbursts and antics seemed to give the finger to the establishment.
And yet, as I watched basketball Thursday night, I knew that if the Rodman of the 1990s were on that Heat roster, the game would've been over at the half. In fact, you could insert Rodman in his prime into the lineup of any of the top five teams in the league and they would instantly become the favorite.
That's not fanboy hyperbole talking. That's recognizing that of the 10 teams considered to be the best in NBA history, two of them featured Dennis Rodman. That's seeing that four times he finished in the top 15 in MVP voting despite never averaging more than 11.6 ppg in a season. That's knowing that Phil Jackson, perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history, trusted a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward to guard Shaq in his prime and the second-round pick from Southeastern Oklahoma State did all right.
I don't condone the homophobic tone associated with comments such as "RuPaul of big men" or "Bosh Spice," but I certainly understand exactly what frustrated fans are trying to describe. It's one thing to be tall and skinny; it's another to be soft. Rodman was a lot of things over the course of his career, but soft wasn't one of them.
|Dennis Rodman's outsized personality was only a sideshow in Chicago, tolerated by the team's star and coaches because of his play on the court.|
A lot more than scoring goes into winning a basketball game, and few, if any, did those statistically invisible things better than Rodman. He played the game on a superstar level, and no way would his manhood had been in question after a 1-for-18 shooting night (not that he would take that many shots in the first place). But his 4,329 offensive rebounds are fifth all time, so he clearly found other ways to help his team score.
However, it's important to remember in a fantasy sports world that Rodman's impact on the game wasn't rooted in stats but a tough heart. Bosh may have the "numbers" but critics justifiably wonder if he has a tough heart. Boston fans are hoping their team didn't trade theirs away. Kobe Bryant's gave Pau Gasol's a nickname -- Black Swan -- and the Chicago Bulls are proving their team has quite a few.
But none of the players suiting up today come close to "The Worm," and if Hall of Fame voters look at Rodman's game and not just the eye-catching off-court games he played, he'll be a shoo-in. And for those fans having problems seeing a player with a 7.3 ppg career scoring average included among the game's immortals, ask yourself this question: Would you had rather have him playing for your favorite team or against it?
Earlier this month, the Detroit Pistons announced plans to retire Rodman's number, and I'm sure in time, the Bulls will elect to do the same. He may show up to the ceremonies in drag or he may show up with green hair, but one thing's for sure: It's a big basketball moment, so he will show up.
Like he has in so many big moments on the basketball court before.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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