Dennis Rodman won the first two of his five NBA titles with the Pistons. He became a media sensation after leaving town. (Jennings / Associated Press)
This is the first in a series of stories leading to the reunion of the Pistons Bad Boys team on March 28 at The Palace.
Isiah Thomas remembers the phone call from an excited Mark Aguirre like it was yesterday.
“I just played against a guy named the Worm,” Aguirre said. “Zeke, I can’t tell you what he does or how he does it but he is doing some stuff I’ve never seen anybody do.”
Aguirre played with the Dallas Mavericks at the time and knew his team could not draft this kid from Southeastern Oklahoma State. He advised Thomas to tell the Pistons to give young man named Dennis Rodman a chance. Thomas told general manager Jack McCloskey and scout Will Robinson. They’d heard about him and planned to watch him at the Portsmouth Invitational.
Aguirre told me: “It was weird. I told Isiah he (Rodman) could play but he couldn’t play. It was hard to explain.”
Robinson and McCloskey watched Rodman play, but the youngster did not have a good camp because of an asthma attack. On draft night in 1986 Rodman was still on the board when the Pistons’ second-round pick came up. Thomas was in the draft room that night.
“Hey Junior. Your guy is there,” Robinson told Thomas. “But he did not look good at Portsmouth.”
Thomas replied: “I don’t know what he did at Portsmouth but Mark Aguirre swears by him. I think we should take him.”
The Pistons picked Rodman and watched him blossom into one of their best players. Rodman was NBA defensive player of the year twice, first team all defense seven times and retired with five NBA titles.
Rodman often grabbed rebounds, passed to Thomas and finished fast breaks with a dunk and fist pump to the crowd. He averaged as many as 18.7 rebounds (in 1991-92) before leaving for San Antonio and the Chicago Bulls, where odd behavior earned him national news.
I ran into Rodman at Los Angeles International Airport and he told me there was money to be made in Asia. A few months later he began making trips to North Korea to visit with dictator friend Kim Jong-un.