Rodman marriage made of Air

November 03, 1995|By John Eisenberg

To get right to the central issue of the NBA season that !B begins tonight: Yes, the marriage of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman will bring a championship to Chicago.

It's "Air and Hair" or "Air and Space," depending on which national sports magazine cover you read. But either way, it means a championship for the Bulls for the fourth time this decade.

The Rockets? Three in a row is a stretch. The Magic? They had a better chance last season, when Jordan was rusty. The Jazz, Suns, Pacers, Spurs and Knicks? They were serious contenders until the Bulls traded for Rodman.

It was a dramatic trade, a crazy trade and a gutsy trade, an unthinkable joining of the league's most popular team and the league's most infamous iconoclast.

And it was a brilliant trade.

Rodman will provide monster rebounding, Jordan will provide monster scoring and Scottie Pippen will provide a little bit of everything in the obscurity that best suits him.

The rest of the league, including the Rockets, doesn't have a chance against such a potent blending of dynamic talent.

If the marriage of personalities works, that is.

Which it will.

The only way it won't is if Rodman all but quits in a petulant snit, as he did on the Spurs during the playoffs last season. But he won't do that to Jordan and the Bulls. No way. Jordan's presence alone will keep it from happening.

If you quit on the best player in history or undermine him in any way, you're showing him disrespect and succeeding only in making yourself look like an idiot.

Rodman obviously doesn't mind looking like an idiot. But not that kind of an idiot.

Sure, he will still change his hair color and paint his nails and do whatever else he wants to satisfy his craving for attention. I'm waiting for him to show up as a white guy one night. That's about all he hasn't done, isn't it?

But unlike last season, his me-first act will not spill over onto the court. He didn't respect the Spurs because they hadn't accomplished anything and he had. He has no choice but to respect the Bulls and basically behave. That's all the Bulls care about. Because if Rodman isn't causing trouble, he is a fabulous asset.

As much as his cries for attention bespeak a horrid streak of selfishness, his game is the definition of selflessness. Winner of the league rebounding title in each of the past four seasons, he doesn't care if he scores a point. He doesn't even want the ball. He just wants to rebound like a madman, defend the other team's toughest player and do the kind of dirty work no one else wants to do.

If he isn't the most valuable player in the league, he is close.

Bulls GM Jerry Krause asked Jordan and Pippen about the trade before pulling the trigger, and Jordan in particular gave it the thumbs-up. He immediately saw the big picture. Rodman was just what the Bulls needed. Rodman was just what he needed. Never has his "supporting cast" had a player this useful.

Rodman's rebounding will make Jordan's life worry-free on the defensive end and allow him to concentrate on scoring and creating and doing all those things he does so well with his tongue hanging out.

It's showtime, people. Jordan was spectacular enough last season coming back from an 18-month layoff and shooting an atypical 41 percent from the field, and now he has had a full off-season to get his conditioning, focus and game back to where they were before he retired to hit .200 in Birmingham.

Maybe he has lost a step, maybe not. It doesn't really matter. He showed last season that he is still the league's best player. He just walked in and started killing people again, as if he had never gone away. This year, he'll be that much better.

With Jordan, it all comes down to personal challenges. He retired because he won three straight titles and it had become #i impossible for him to prove anyone wrong or find a reason to get mad. But now he is older and there are those who say he isn't the same, and he made critical mistakes that did much to doom the Bulls in their playoff loss to the Magic last year. In other words, he has reasons to want to win again. That's what makes him tick.

It was almost as if he needed to lose last year to make this year more interesting for him.

As the NBA season begins, there is the usual complement of plot lines worth monitoring. How will Pat Riley handle coaching a bad team (the Heat) for the first time in his career? Can the overachieving Rockets possibly do it again? How will Don Nelson do in New York? Are Karl Malone and John Stockton doomed to never make the Finals? Is it time for Charles Barkley to say goodbye and try politics?

But all those questions are dwarfed by the Jordan-Rodman marriage, which, if it didn't make such sense on the court, could be dismissed as just a spectacular marketing ploy. But it is so much more than that. Oh, yes.

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