Rodman in Your Face

You can take two million dollars out of Dennis Rodman's checking account. While you're at it, go ahead and set it on fire. With his endorsements, he's paid seven times that. Every season. You can also take him off the floor and sit his crazy ass on the bench. Not to worry. That gives him time to dream up new antics. You can take Madonna out of his bed and the fuchsia out of his hairdo. Plenty more where they came from. You can even take the wedding dress or the pink boa right off his back. It doesn't matter. Whatever you take, Dennis Rodman isn't about to go changin'.

Not now. Not for anyone. In all likelihood, not ever. Because there's simply no possibility of taking away Rodman's view of the world--which is that the whole thing's his crib, he owns all the squeaky toys, and he'll wear any kind of diapers he damn well wants.

After angrily kicking a courtside cameraman in the privates on January 15 in Minneapolis, Dennis the Menace chalked up the second-longest suspension in National Basketball Association history--at least eleven games without pay--and a $25,000 league fine. Remorseless, he then settled up with his victim, reportedly for $200,000, so that the guy wouldn't haul him into court to face a bothersome misdemeanor assault charge. The cameraman had to be carried out of the arena on a stretcher. But hey, 200K will buy a lot of videotape.

All told, Rodman's latest tantrum will cost him about $1.5 million. Listen, that's chump change when you're as bad as you wanna be but not as bad as you're gonna get. And it's a pretty smart investment in the future growth of Rodman and Company, a leading manufacturer of postmodern celebrity myth.

Let's see. Opinions diverge on Mr. Rodman, aka The Worm:
Michael Jordan, his famous teammate on the world champion Chicago Bulls, thinks it's kind of a team distraction whenever Dennis goes to a book-signing event in drag. But Mike sure likes all those rebounds the guy pulls down. Without Dennis, the Bulls might win only 98 percent of their games this season, and some other club might stay within twenty points of them some night in the playoffs.

Mr. Blackwell, the fashion maven, announced two weeks ago that Rodman heads his 1997 list of worst-dressed women. "In fishnet and feathers," Blackwell observed, "he's a unisex mess." It's probably a good thing Blackwell doesn't go to many Chicago games. Rodman might dive into the fifth row after him and pour green dye on his face. After all, Diane Keaton's threads are a lot sorrier than Dennis's, and she came in third.

Dwight Manley, who is Dennis Rodman's agent, steadfastly supports the man who earns him a million bucks a year in his God-given right to head-butt referees, shout piles of obscenities at TV cameras and call up his head coach at four o'clock in the morning to ask if he'd like to go out for a beer. A connoisseur of the game, Manley says Rodman has "a flair and genius" for basketball, and he has compared him favorably to Albert Einstein. You know, the new power forward for the Warriors. A lawyer down to the soles of his shoes, Manley also says that the punishment meted out to his client by the NBA last week is "excessive and unjust."

The Carl's Jr. hamburger chain, out in California, used to like Rodman well enough to use him as a pitch person, but last week it yanked his TV spots off the air because the company didn't want the explosive player's violent behavior associated with its products. The timeless theme of the eighteen-month Carl's Jr. ad campaign? "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face."

Another Rodman-endorsed product, Eastman Kodak's new Advantic camera, won't go near his face these days, either. After getting himself ejected from a game last month, Rodman spewed profanity during a post-game TV interview, criticized the referees and NBA commissioner David Stern and got suspended for two games. As a result, Kodak indicated it will probably terminate his endorsement contract.

As for Scottie Pippen, another Bulls teammate, he dutifully does his work in tandem with The Worm these days. But NBA insiders say he's never forgotten or forgiven the night when then-Detroit Piston Dennis Rodman catapulted him, with a helpful shove in the back, into the $150 seats.

On the bottom line, the only audience that really matters to Rodman and Company--aside from his coach--is composed of his fans. The millions of kids and not-such-kids who buy his sneakers and his soda and his breakfast food and, for all we know, the new Dennis Rodman lines of pantyhose and industrial-strength nerve gas. If these people have any complaints about a guy who regularly coldcocks opponents and asserts that, in an ideal world, he'd play the game in the nude, they're being awfully quiet about it.

On the contrary, Dennis Rodman--unfettered social rebel, man-child with technicolor hair, power unto himself, soul of androgyny--is the embodiment of an age in which civility has been judged uncool, intellect is taboo and screaming brain-wave anarchy has been elevated into a new sacrament. A couple of lame-ass burger-broilers in L.A. and the camera people in upstate New York may have slammed their checkbooks shut. But what really matters is that the Bulls are probably headed for another NBA title, and Rodman's in-your-face anti-heroism is just the ticket when it comes time for Madison Avenue to pitch everything from instant oatmeal to designer condoms to small-caliber automatic weapons scaled down for thirteen-year-olds. With a bas-relief of tattoos covering half his body and a stream of incoherent ravings coming out of his mouth, this raging Bull is the Man of the Hour. And, possibly, the Woman.

Still, he must now undergo "counseling" in advance of a February meeting with NBA commissioner Stern, at which Rodman will have to make a case for his reinstatement to the Bulls. Unless something goes very, very wrong, The Worm's counselor will probably emerge from their sessions together with a mauve coif and a budding interest in cross-dressing. As for Stern, after six or seven minutes of listening to Rodman's explanations of his behavior, he'll likely be considering a mid-career move into used-car sales.

Such is the ferocity of one man's grip on his world and the awful power of the American celebrity culture. In fact, watching Dennis Rodman work his outrageous thing can't help making you nostalgic for the good old days of sport--when the second baseman simply spit in the face of the umpire and everybody went home happy.

Those hundreds of thousands of Broncos fans who claim they spent Sunday afternoon shopping for auto parts or taking in the rodeo or volunteering to mop floors at the homeless shelter or watching the Chinese National Table Tennis championship on ESPN2 may not be telling the truth, exactly.

It's more likely that curiosity, which ranks second only to the desire for a good bowl of green chile in the realm of human urges, took hold of the orange-clad masses as the Pats and the Packers kicked it off in the Louisiana Superdome. What brokenhearted Donk-lover, after all, didn't want to see if a New England team that Elway and company shredded on its own field two seasons in a row could make a game of it against the mighty Packers? A bitter curiosity, perhaps, but curiosity nonetheless.

As it happened, the Patriots were not up to the task. The tundra folk from Green Bay didn't exactly make tuna salad out of Bill Parcells and his boys, but the Pack was never in real jeopardy, was it? As anyone who wasn't really rotating the tires on the Datsun or reading The Brothers Karamazov Sunday afternoon could tell you, the NFC champs were once again the real Super Bowl power. If there's any local consolation in it, the Pats never had a real shot.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas oddsmakers were right on the money. The fourteen-point favorite won the game by precisely fourteen, thanks to a missed Packer field goal in the fourth quarter. That probably didn't sit very well in Lombardi country, where fans bet the dairy farm on their heroes. But a win is a win, and "Titletown" is once more worthy of the name. Look for cheese hats to dominate the spring fashion shows in Paris.

And your Denver Broncos? The way we hear it, Mike Shanahan's entire corps of defensive backs spent Sunday afternoon at the bowling alley. Shannon Sharpe was seeing to his stamp collection. Brian Habib went to a violin lesson, and John Elway was down at the dealership, poring over the new warranty rules and bolting nameplates to a fresh shipment of Hondas.

To hear locals tell it, no one felt super in these parts on Sunday, and no one watched the game that got away. That would have been shameful, after all. So they spent the day watching pornographic movies on East Colfax, selling heroin and flogging the dog.

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