When you hear the name Dennis Rodman, plenty of extracurricular activities come to mind. Many will remember the Worm’s constantly changing hair color and appearance in a wedding dress; others will think of his modern relationship with Kim Jong Un. During his time in the association, though, Rodman also stood head and shoulders above the other players in one specific field: rebounding.
While it’s easy to write Rodman off as a colorful character who happened to be in the right place (Chicago) at the right time (during the height of Michael Jordan’s reign), he was more than than that. In fact, the forward might actually be the greatest rebounder in NBA history.
Dennis Rodman’s unlikely road to the pros
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Once he made it to the NBA, Dennis Rodman established himself as a key contributor to some quality teams. During his youth, however, he didn’t seem cut out for sports.
As Bruce Newman explained in a Sports Illustrated article, Rodman was deemed too small to make his high school’s football team. While he did land a spot on the basketball team, but didn’t have much success. “I couldn’t even make a layup right,” Rodman explained; he spent half a season warming the bench before calling it quits.
Without an athletic future on his horizon, Rodman began working a series of odd jobs. He spent some time as a janitor in the Dallas-Worth Airport but ran into issues after stealing watches out of a store after hours. Seemingly out of nowhere, though, everything changed.
Thanks to a sudden growth spurt, Rodman grew to 6 feet, 7 inches tall; that inspired him to take another shot at basketball. He enrolled at Cooke County Junior College, but only lasted one semester. The forward then tried his luck at Southeastern Oklahoma State, where he developed into a star.
Building an NBA career around defense and rebounding
As you likely know, Southeastern Oklahoma State isn’t exactly a big-time basketball program. Dennis Rodman, however, still showed enough talent there to earn a shot at the pros.
After Rodman’s strong showing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, the Detroit Pistons selected him with the 27th overall pick of the 1986 NBA draft. While he rarely started during his first few seasons in the Motor City, his tough defense, aggressive rebounding, and physical play was a perfect fit with the Bad Boys.
Rodman helped the Pistons claim two consecutive NBA titles but ultimately demanded a trade and landed with the San Antonio Spurs. After a brief stint in Texas, he moved again, this time to the Chicago Bulls. That trade would change the course of NBA history.
In the Windy City, the forward proved to be the perfect complimentary player. Michael Jordan obviously ran the show, and Scottie Pippen was a capable secondary option; Rodman did the dirty work, pulling down rebounds and providing a physical presence down low.
The Worm, of course, won three titles in Chicago before seeing out his career with the Mavericks and Lakers. In total, he played 911 games in the association, averaging 7.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assist per outing.
Dennis Rodman has a case to be the greatest rebounder in NBA history
When you look at basketball’s all-time rebound leaders, Dennis Rodman isn’t even in the top 20. Despite that reality, the forward may still have a case as the NBA’s greatest rebounder.
During his time in the association, Rodman led the league in rebounding for seven-straight seasons; no other player in history has accomplished that feat. Those campaigns also came with the Pistons, Spurs, and Bulls, highlighting that individual skill, rather than a systemic advantage, gave Rodman the edge.
It’s also worth noting that the Worm was comparatively small by basketball standards. With all due respect to the likes Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, someone as that tall and physically dominant should be pulling down rebounds with relative ease. As we saw during The Last Dance, Rodman elevated rebounding to an art form, studying individual player’s shots, reading the rotation of the ball, and knowing where the rebound would land.
Both on and off the basketball court, Dennis Rodman wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. No one, however, can argue with his rebounding prowess.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference