Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dennis Rodman's Hall of Fame Speech - "I have one regret: I wish I was a better father"

Dennis Rodman was one of the greatest rebounders to ever play in the NBA, and for that skill (and a fistful of championship rings) he has earned a spot in the NBA Hall of Fame. I have always liked Rodman - he seems to me to be a genuinely good guy with a lot of pain locked up inside him. And to deal with that pain he became an alcoholic - self-medicating the pain that playing basketball once soothed.

I'm sure that no one knew what to expect with Rodman's acceptance speech - he once said that if he made it to the Hall of Fame he would accept the honor in the nude. That didn't happen, literally, but in many ways, Rodman was more naked on that stage than any of us have ever seen, and few of us could possibly do.

It was a touching speech that showed Dennis Rodman the man, the human being, stripped of all the image and masks he has hidden behind. He talked about his dad leaving when he was 5 years old, and that Phil Jackson, Jerry Buss, Chuck Daly, and James Rich as the only "fathers" he had ever known.

ESPN's Justin Verrier wrote the following column on Rodman's speech.
Verrier By Justin Verrier

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It's a shame Dennis Rodman's photo will be drenched in sepia like the rest of the gatekeepers that peer down from the circular ceiling at basketball's hallowed hall.

For the most colorful palette the NBA has ever seen, tie-dye might be more appropriate. Maybe with a few sequins, too.

For the better part of 14 NBA seasons spread across five franchises, Rodman defined excess.

On the court, he grabbed more rebounds than any other player in seven straight seasons from 1991 to '98, and he finished his career with the best rebound rate (23.4) in NBA history. Off the court, he grabbed as many headlines as possible, wearing more outlandish outfits and hair colors than anyone in league annals while throwing his body around nightclubs and the party scene as hard as he would chasing after a loose ball.

But as Rodman stepped on the stage at Springfield's Symphony Hall and into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the persona for which he's been known for so long slowly melted away to reveal the man so long forgotten behind the dark green eye shadow.

Oh, there were outrageous oufits. Plural.

Rodman didn't come dressed in his birthday suit like he said he would years ago. But the garb he did don was certainly no letdown. A silver coat with matching plumage-adorned cowboy hat and boa, the ensemble of his red-carpet arrival was part cockatoo, part astronaut, part Steven Tyler. And sometime during the speeches of the nine other members of the Class of 2011 that came before, "The Worm" managed a quick costume change into a black suit with "Pistons," "Bulls" and his initials, among other designs, bedazzled on the front and back, complete with a scarf so blinged out that not even Liberace would have dared to go there.

But in his 13-minute goodbye to the basketball world, Rodman eschewed all the glitz and glamour that his career stands for to so many and bared his soul for the world to see.

After spending the first two minutes of his speech reading off a long list of names of people who had helped him along the way -- including, of course, comedian Penny Marshall, who's filming his documentary -- Rodman spent almost a minute choking on his tears, all 6-foot-7 of his brawny frame erupting with raw emotion.

"I didn't play the game for the money," Rodman said, his eyes welling with tears as he paused to force out the next words. "I didn't play to be famous. What you see here is just an illusion; I just love to be an individual that's very colorful."

But as Rodman went on, his speech became more confessional than congratulatory.

He reached out to his fellow Hall of Famers, for the struggle he and other poverty-stricken players had to endure to get where they are.

"I coud've been dead; I could've been a drug dealer. I could've been homeless -- I was homeless," he said. "A lot of you guys that are in here in the Hall of Fame know what it's like to be in the projects and trying to get out the projects. And I did that. But it took a lot of bumps along the road."

He reached out to his father, Philander, who he claims cashed in on his fame with a book despite never being a part of his life.

"He made a lot of money, but he never came and said hello to me," Rodman said. "But that didn't stop me from persevering."

He reached out to his mother, Shirley, sitting in the audience, never sugarcoating a troubled past that includes Rodman being kicked out of his home in his early 20s.

"I resented her for a long time," he said. "My mother rarely ever hugged me or hugged my siblings. She didn't know how. But she managed.

"I wasn't like most players in the NBA who say, 'I'm going to take care of my mother.' I was real selfish, because of things she did to me in my life. But as I got older things changed. I haven't been a great son to you the last [few] years, but now we can laugh about that."

And he reached out to his wife, Michelle, and his three children, his young boy sporting a Rodman-esque blue Mohawk hidden behind his dad's fine-feathered hat.

"If anyone asks if I have any regrets in your career being a basketball player, I say I have one regret: I wish I was a better father, " Rodman said.

With the "only man that would ever cry for [him]," Phil Jackson, by his side, Rodman reached a level so seldom seen these days by reaching through the superficial. The same way Rodman said Jackson, Jerry Buss, Chuck Daly and James Rich, who long ago helped Rodman off the streets, once did for him.

This year's induction ceremony was full of memorable moments.

Chris Mullin was smooth and precise, shouting out his Brooklyn roots and his favorite two nuns seated in the audience with equal poise and enthusiasm. Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer was as measured and confident as she is in the huddle, calling upon words from Malcolm Gladwell and telling the tale of how her parents met in Springfield some years ago. Tom "Satch" Sanders -- inarguably the smoothest new member of the Hall -- and Artis Gilmore each went out with style and grace.

The night, however, belonged to Rodman. To his one last chance to put on a show, one last chance to remind us what had us glued on him, even when in the presence of basketball's greatest.

During a recent phone call with my generally basketball oblivious mother, I mentioned my trip down to Springfield to watch Rodman, a player she knows only through his high-profile flings with Hollywood starlets, ride off into the sunset.

"The weirdo with the hair?" she queried, almost in disbelief.

The one and only.

Justin Verrier is an NBA editor for Follow him on Twitter.

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