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In the NBA playoffs throughout the 1990s — especially in the Eastern Conference — teams took physicality to the next level. And two of the biggest culprits of the playoffs dark arts were Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman and Charlotte Hornets forward Anthony Mason. When the two got together in 1998, things got so heated that Mason choked Rodman. “The Worm” didn’t respond physically, though. He only came back with a killer one-liner after the game.

Dennis Rodman zinged Anthony Mason after the Hornets forward chocked him

During the “Last Dance” Bulls season of 1997-98, Chicago took on the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (Round 2).

That Hornets team featured a tough, veteran squad of Glen Rice, Anthony Mason, Vlade Divac, David Wesley, former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong, and Stephen Curry’s dad, Dell.

The Bulls won Game 1, lost Game 2, and won Game 3. That made Game 4 in Charlotte crucial. If the Hornets won, the series could go six or seven. If the Bulls won, that was probably it for the Hornets.

Charlotte came out firing and took a two-point lead after the first quarter. They lost the lead at halftime but were only down by four. Then, the Bulls came out in the third quarter and blitzed the Hornets 28-19 in the quarter, effectively ending the game and, ultimately, the series.

This game is most famous, though, for Anthony Mason and the infamous Dennis Rodman mixing it up with less than five minutes to go in the game.

Rodman set a screen on Mason, and the former New York Knicks star grabbed Rodman by the throat and threw him backward. Amazingly, the referees called a double foul on the play, which led to announcer Bob Costas sarcastically suggesting, “I guess Rodman fouled him with his face or neck.”

After the game, Rodman got the last laugh, and not just because of the big win. In his postgame interview, Ahmad Rashad asked, “What was going on with you and Anthony Mason?”

“We were just having a good time,” Rodman quipped. “I asked him if he wanted to tango, but he didn’t know the steps.”

It was a perfect response to the move by a frustrated Mason, who should have been frustrated as Rodman always seemed just a little better than his rival.

Anthony Mason vs. Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman, Anthony Mason, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls
Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman tangles with Charlotte Hornets forward Anthony Mason | TIM ZIELENBACH/AFP via Getty Images

Dennis Rodman and Anthony Mason were two of the toughest, most intimidating NBA players from the 1990s.

Mason played 13 NBA seasons with 10 playoff appearances and made an All-Star game. Rodman played 14 seasons with 11 playoff appearances and two All-Star nods. The biggest difference is that Rodman won five NBA championships, while Mason won none.

Mason was the better offensive player, averaging 10.9 points and 3.4 assists in his career. However, he couldn’t match up with Rodman’s defense and rebounding. “The Worm” was a seven-time rebound champ and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

When Mason left the Knicks for the Hornets in 1996, he helped turn the franchise around. The Hornets won 60.32% of the games Mason played in, making him the franchise’s winningest player. From 1995-98, though, when Rodman played with the Bulls, the organization won a stunning 81.71% of the games he played.

Despite Dennis Rodman usually getting the best of Anthony Mason, their matchup was always one of the most physical and fun to watch. It would be great to hear the two reminisce about those duals today, but Mason tragically died of a heart attack at age 45 in 2015.


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