Dennis Rodman and John Salley Suffered Through Some Serious Hazing as Rookies With the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons

In popular culture, Dennis Rodman looms large as someone who you didn’t want to mess with. The forward, who is most remembered for his time with the Chicago Bulls, was a tough customer. Even if you ignore his extracurricular activities, The Worm proved to be a tough defender and a fearless rebounder, willing to take on any challenge. During his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons, though, the forward was quite a bit lower on the pecking order.

Ahead of the 1986 campaign, both John Salley and Rodman joined the Bad Boy Pistons. As you might expect, that squad was sure to make the rookies pay their dues.

John Salley and Dennis Rodman came from vastly different backgrounds to join the Detroit Pistons

While professional basketball may seem pretty uniform from a cultural perspective, every locker room contains a cast of characters from vastly different backgrounds. Take, for example, Salley and Rodman.

The former man hailed from New York City but played his college basketball at Georgia Tech. He made quite the impact with the Yellow Jackets, averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per outing for his NCAA career. On the back of that success, Salley entered into the 1986 NBA draft and joined the Pistons at the 11th overall pick.

Rodman, on the other hand, Rodman didn’t follow a conventional path to the pros. As a high schooler, the teenager didn’t show much athletic talent and eventually found himself working as an airport janitor. A sudden growth spurt inspired him to return to the hardwood, though, and, after a stint at community college and a transfer to Southeastern Oklahoma State, the forward had caught the eye of NBA scouts. When the 1986 draft rolled around, he joined the Pistons as the 27th pick.

The two rookies faced an unpleasant introduction to life in the NBA

John Salley (L) and Dennis Rodman (R), who played together as members of the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, enjoy a night out.
John Salley (L) and Dennis Rodman (R) celebrate The Worm’s birthday in 2004. | Robert Bertoia/Getty Images

While Rodman and Salley came from different backgrounds to join the Detroit Pistons, they faced a common reality once they joined up with the squad. Both men were suddenly were situated at the bottom of the food chain, meaning they had to face their share of hazing.

“This is a story about my rookie season. It’s training camp, and I get there, and I am just crazy happy to be on the squad,” Salley explained in a 2010 Deadspin post. “Now, we’re at the gym, and we hear that there are all these girls in the lobby. I don’t know what they’re there for, but you know me — I want to find out. Plus, the team gives us lunch and dinner after practices and stuff. But before we can get out to the lobby, and before we can eat, Dennis Rodman and I have to clean the locker room. And it’s nasty. Bill Laimbeer would throw his jock against that wall, his jersey against this wall. Just nasty.”

The rookies’ challenges wouldn’t end there, though. After they finished cleaning, Rodman and Salley found that their meals had already been accounted for.

“So Dennis and I are cleaning the locker room,” the center continued. “The girls are in the lobby. The food’s already out there. When we’re through cleaning, what do we find? These broads are eating what’s left. I have never been more upset in my life.”

As a final indignity, Salley returned to his room to find that his bed had been soaked with water. While it’s not clear if Rodman suffered the same fate, it seems unlikely that the Pistons veterans would have targeted one rookie while sparing the other.

In the end, though, everything worked out for John Salley and Dennis Rodman

As you might imagine, Salley didn’t exactly enjoy that experience; he even went as far as saying that he “hated” his rookie year. In the end, though, everything worked out for both him and Rodman.

On the whole, Salley spent 12 seasons in the NBA, winning four championships. Two of those came with the Bad Boy Pistons, and the big man added another ring with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. While. he never proved to be a dynamic offensive threat, the New York native was a capable role player on some talented squads.

Rodman, for all of his eccentricities, actually followed a similar career trajectory. The forward made a name for himself with tough defense and tenacious rebounding and, between his time with the Pistons and Bulls, lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy five times.

To be clear, hazing isn’t OK. Given the way their respective careers played out, though, Dennis Rodman and John Salley would probably trade cleaning the locker room and missing a meal for winning multiple NBA championships.

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