Dennis Rodman's impact on the NBA has gone beyond his Hall of Fame career.
Though few players in NBA history can match Rodman's defensive tenacity, energy on the glass, and all-around hustle, his outsized personality helped usher in a new era in the NBA. Rodman's colorful hair, tattoos, piercings, and off-the-court, larger-than-life brand, in some ways, paved the way for today's players, many of whom show their personalities and build an off-court brand for themselves.
Before the debut of ESPN's new "30-for-30" documentary, "Rodman: For Better or Worse," Rodman spoke to Business Insider about his career, the modern NBA, his advice for today's stars, Michael Jordan and more.
Note: The below conversation is an excerpt from a longer interview and has been edited for length and clarity.
Scott Davis: Does anybody in the NBA today remind you of yourself?
Dennis Rodman: I think the only one that reminds me of myself, that I study, that really wants to win and win and win, I say Draymond Green. Even though I talk s— about him a lot, I think he's probably the only one. He's more like me. He can shoot a little bit, but he can't shoot, but he does everything else good.
But I just think that the passion of the game of basketball is not what it used to be. I think the driving force for basketball today, I think kids go to the NBA, get a s— load of money and then all of a sudden that's it. And they look at it as the money's guaranteed no matter what I do. If I play halfway decent, then I get all this money.
And so I understood that the game was more than just the money. It's about, you know, your goal is to win a championship. Your goal is to make people happy. That's the key. That's the key. A lot of players, I think a lot of players don't have that ambition to do that.
Davis: Going back a moment — why do you talk s— about Draymond Green?
Rodman: That's just busting his balls. That's just to see what he says about that, you know. I commend him for staying with Golden State for $25 million a year. I said I wish I was like you, Draymond, getting $25 million just to do what you do. I probably got like a quarter of what you've got, what I was doing.
Davis: What do you think of the player empowerment era in the NBA, where players are increasingly taking control of their careers?
Rodman: Well, that's the day and age now. Everyone wants to be their own corporation. Everybody wants to sit there and control it themselves. A lot of people can't do that. I mean, even billionaires can't control themselves. They need people to help them along the way and stuff like that.
I think if players can understand that, I have all these opportunities now. Okay great. You need someone to delegate those things for you, and then if you got people that's going to go out there for you, that you trust, then great. Your main job is why you got there: play basketball, play the hardest you can play, and go out there and win for the people and make sure that you are satisfied, too. Go show the people that you can go out there and give 110% every night.
And don't say that you are hurt and then next thing you know, you come back two weeks later. I mean that just don't sit well with me at all. You get a rest; you get rest now. We never took a break when we played. We played every game, pretty much most of the game, and we won, and we loved the game, we loved the passion of the game. I just wish players could just focus on playing the game when the season is going on, instead of worried about how they could make money off the side during the season and just concentrate on the season.
Davis: I'm curious about your response to that because you were a player who really showed your off-court personality and your interests in other subjects. Do you think you in some ways inspired some of today's players?
Rodman: Well, I think today's players don't look at me like that. They basically look at me and say, wow, he was the first guy to do all these things that we're doing today. And even now, I've got my own podcast — everybody's got their own podcast — I got this limited edition shirt that's coming out on Instagram and stuff like that. I got all my Instagram followers. Stuff like that. So, I'm doing stuff like that that people don't know about, but these players, they do it 24/7. I did it 24/7, but it wasn't known that you do it 24/7.
My stuff was created by me. I think I'm the only player in the sport that created an image by himself. I didn't have Nike. I didn't have Adidas. I didn't have Puma. I didn't have nobody to help me outside, besides basketball, to create Dennis Rodman's image. That was my image right there. When I was portrayed on TV, you didn't see me endorse anything at all. I created that myself, Dennis Rodman by myself. Today you got people endorsing everybody. I did this by myself until this day I'm still doing it by myself. Don't see me endorsing nothing. I created this s—.
Davis: What advice would you give a player today if they asked you about how to handle themselves, how to create a brand, take care of their life off the court, etc.? What would you tell them?
Rodman: I just give players advice like this: if you build yourself up to go and play a game that you love to play, that you say you love to play, and when you reach the peak of your contract or your years in the NBA, and you finally get what you want, what is left for you to achieve? You got the main thing you want: money. What are you going to do besides money to raise the level of what you want to be now? You want to take care of your family. Great. Got that. What else do you want to do? I wanna win a championship? Great. What else you want to do? [silence] Okay, great.
When you ask those questions of people, they all have nothing else to say about what else they want to do. I want to stay rich. Okay, great. Don't we all? They don't ever say anything that's to [help] the people, you know? I go do this for the homeless. I do this, this, this. Okay, great, you did that for the homeless, stuff like that. Why don't you say, I'm going to give a portion of my money to this charity, this corporation, this organization that's going to help people. Okay, great. Now you're talking my language.
Davis: Have players ever sought you out to talk to you about that kind of stuff before?
Rodman: Well, people don't ask me, they just ask me, what can I do to do this? What can I do to do that?
I love the game, and I didn't play the sport for money. Even though it's the most important thing for people today, I didn't play the sport for money. And all the players will tell you, that know me, that when I played, it wasn't the money factor for me to play. I played because I wanted to play. I wanted to win.
So I guess it's a different generation, you know, the youth of America is really taking over the world right now. So we have to adapt to it and try to find some avenue to help these people, my friends, understanding what the world is all about today. It's not about 20 years ago. It's about today's game.
Davis: The documentary has a section about when you joined the Chicago Bulls and how Michael Jordan approved of the move. What was it like to get his sort of stamp of approval?
Rodman: [Laughs] That's kind of funny — he approved of me. Yeah, he pretty much did approve of me to be there.
I figured that he was missing one element to win a championship with the Bulls. And Scottie Pippen had a lot to do with it, too. I think that he believed in me. I think it took him a little time to warm up to me. I think halfway through the season; I think he would have said, well, we got something here. This is what we've been missing. And they believed in me. And so basically, I think that he had the confidence in me to keep me on the team and say, great, you're here, man. Let's go win this thing. And that's all he had to say to me.
Davis: Was there anything that surprised you about Michael Jordan when you got to the Bulls? Something people didn't know about him or something you wouldn't have expected?
Rodman: No, I just find that people don't realize that the guy is so competitive, I don't think he ever slept. I think he was so competitive, 24/7, I think he never slept. He just wanted to win, man. He just loved being on top. And that's one thing you want in a player. You want to always think about, hey, I want to do this, I want to do that. You wanna reach for the sky, man; the sky's the limit. It don't matter if he was playing marbles, he'll try to beat you in that. Scottie Pippen was the same damn way. Scottie, when he was playing, he had that same mentality as Michael Jordan.
Davis: What do you think when people debate Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James as the greatest player ever?
Rodman: LeBron is not a Michael Jordan type. LeBron's a different type of player. I think LeBron's between Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen put together, you know? I think LeBron is more like brute strength, stuff like that. And Michael Jordan's more like a racing car. Dancing with the ball, literally dancing with the ball. So smooth, so at ease.
Scottie Pippen to me has revolutionized the game. The fact that he revolutionized the point forward as far as like 6'9", can do it all. Magic [Johnson] was one, but Magic was more of a slower version of Scottie Pippen. Scottie Pippen was like, all of the above. If Michael Jordan didn't come to the NBA, Scottie Pippen would be in that place right there.
So, I think that LeBron has all the great skills, great athlete, probably one of the top five players that ever played a game. But you know, Michael — Michael was different. Michael was different.
Davis: Do you ever think about how you'd play in today's NBA? You already put up some pretty incredible numbers when you were playing, and now the game is even faster, and there's probably more opportunities and stuff. What do you think you'd be like today?
Rodman: Well, number one, I mean, a lot of damn money [laughs]. That's just real s— right there. Two, I'd be the only one playing defense and rebounding like hell. I think I'd average over 20 rebounds per game.