CHICAGO -- There was Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson looking toward his bench early in the first game of the NBA Finals. And there was Jackson, needing help on the boards, calling for Dickey Simpkins to enter the game.
Dickey Simpkins? Yes, Dickey Simpkins, the player who earlier this season couldn't get off the Golden State Warriors' bench.
Jackson would have loved to call on Dennis Rodman, the league's leading rebounder, who is capable of providing energy for the Bulls. But when they desperately need Rodman, the multi-tattooed forward -- up until Friday's Game 2 -- apparently no longer needs them.
Rodman was on his best behavior for much of the season, and the reasons were mostly financial: Nearly half of the more than $9 million he made this season was based on incentives, and Rodman needed just to be available for the playoffs to collect a $1 million bonus.
Since that bonus has been earned, there are no more financial incentives for Rodman. And so it seemed, before his aggressive play on Karl Malone on Friday, he basically had been tanking it, starting with the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana, when he began not sitting on the bench at the start of games, having to be summoned from the locker room when Jackson wanted him to enter.
The latest Rodman distraction is his sore right thumb, which was announced before Game 1 of the Finals and kept him out of the starting lineup. An excuse to avoid the abuse he'd endure from Malone? Who knows, but Rodman -- despite grabbing 10 rebounds -- was ineffective in 40 minutes of Game 1 and didn't help Chicago by launching several quick, ill-advised jump shots.
"I thought he took some shots that were out of character," Jackson said. "But then you have to debate what is character for him."
So how did he rest his thumb after the game? He went to Las Vegas to gamble, not returning to Salt Lake City until 5 a.m. Thursday.
As Utah coach Jerry Sloan said last week, "This is not the same Chicago Bulls team that we faced last year." That's because last year Chicago had players like Brian Williams and Jason Caffey, who were capable of stepping up if Rodman disappeared.
Rodman did play well Friday, which increases Chicago's chances of winning a title. For that to happen, Rodman has to play a major role. We'll see, starting tonight, whether his Game 2 performance puts him in the proper mind-set the rest of the series.
Around the league
Washington Wizards general manager Wes Unseld apologized for his team's play in a letter sent to season-ticket holders last week.
"First and foremost, the Wizards organization is not satisfied and will not accept the results of last season," Unseld wrote. "On the court, we let you down."
As well as off the court, where Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland had their problems. Webber was traded last month, and there are rumors that Howard is being shopped. The Wizards would like to re-sign Strickland, who led the league in assists last season.
Charlotte Hornets assistant coach Paul Silas was interviewed for the vacant Seattle SuperSonics job last week. Silas last coached in 1983, with the then-San Diego Clippers. The Sonics might have an interest in Jackson when the season is over, but Paul Westphal reportedly has emerged as the front-runner to succeed George Karl.
With the emergence of Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs are rumored to be shopping David Robinson. Rumors have included trades to Detroit for Grant Hill, to Orlando for Penny Hardaway and to Charlotte for Anthony Mason and Glen Rice. The Spurs say they are not shopping Robinson.
After the Pacers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals, coach Larry Bird said he would ask the players if they wanted him back for next season. The day after their season ended, the players spoke.
"I told him, 'As long as my contract is here, your contract is here,' " said Reggie Miller. "We're going to parallel. I told him: 'When I finish my contract, then you can go on home. Until then, you're going to be on the sidelines.' "
Hardaway, who played in 19 games last season, hopes to be fully recovered soon from his injured knee and calf.
"I'd say my knee is 100 percent right now, and my calf about 90 percent," Hardaway said. "I'm really getting excited about next season. Rehab has gone well. But I'm going to wait a little longer to really test it."
"I actually brought a clip from Sports Illustrated, not because it's the most reliable, but because it takes itself the most seriously."
-- NBA commissioner David Stern, taking a jab at the weekly magazine, while answering a question about Michael Jordan and the future of the league. The magazine recently ran a cover story entitled "Where's Daddy?" on children born out of wedlock, and focused mainly on NBA players.
Chicago vs. Utah
(Series tied 1-1)
Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT
Game 2 Chicago, 93-88
Today at Chi. (-4 1/2 ) 7: 30 p.m.
Wednesday at Chicago 9 p.m.
Friday at Chicago 9 p.m.
June 14 at Utah 7: 30 p.m.*
June 17 at Utah 9 p.m.*
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/07/98