After the Chicago Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman from the San Antonio Spurs in 1995, the All-Star had to learn the triangle offense. With the help of Phil Jackson and Tex Winter, Rodman learned the triangle offense faster than any player Winter had been around, including Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Because he was so eager to learn the triangle and treated him with respect, Winter loved Rodman during their time together on the Bulls in the late ’90s.
Tex Winter loved Dennis Rodman
In author Roland Lazenby’s book called Blood On the Horns: The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Winter spoke about how much he admired coaching Rodman from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
“I enjoy Dennis,” Winter said, via Chicago sports historian Jack M Silverstein. “I enjoy coaching him. I talk to him about his life a little bit, but I’m not gonna correct him or tell him how to live his life. That would be a mistake. At my age, I think he sort of looks upon me as a grandfather figure. He’s willing to listen, and he’s very receptive, especially in the coaching aspect of it. And he’s been fun to work with on the floor as far as that’s concerned. If you squelch him, if you say, ‘Dennis, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that,’ well then he’s probably not gonna be nearly the basketball player that he is.”
Winter mentee Steve Fitzgerald once said that Rodman “picked up the triangle faster than any other player” Tex had coached. On Bulls road trips, Rodman would knock on Winter’s door in the evening, looking for extra videotape to study.
Rodzilla was undoubtedly a dynamic character. However, once it was time to perform, he always played his heart out for the Bulls.
Dennis Rodman averaged 5.2 points and 15.3 rebounds for the Bulls
Rodman was a defensive and rebounding specialist for the Bulls. He averaged 5.2 points and 15.3 rebounds in 199 games in Chicago and helped the franchise win three consecutive championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson embraced Rodman for who he was. While they knew he loved to party and did extravagant things, they understood he cared about winning and took games seriously. That was evident by how quickly Rodman learned the triangle offense, something Jordan presumably appreciated.
Not many pundits talk about how smart Rodman was as a player, but Jordan saw his teammate’s IQ on full display for three years on basketball’s highest stage.
“Dennis was one of the smartest guys I played with,” Jordan said in The Last Dance docuseries. “He understood defensive strategy with all the rotations. He had no limits in terms of what he does.”
Rodman was such a force on the boards and on defense that he impacted the game without scoring. His understanding of the triangle offense helped him average career-high in assists with the Bulls and eventually earned him a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Five-time champion made Hall of Fame despite averaging single-digits
There are only three players in the Hall of Fame who averaged fewer points than Rodman: Buddy Jeannette (7.2), Charles Cooper (6.7), and Ben Wallace (5.7). With the Detroit Pistons, Spurs, Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks, Rodman averaged 7.3 points.
Defense, rebounding, and winning are what ultimately got Rodman into the Hall of Fame. The Southeastern Oklahoma State University product won five championships, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and seven rebounding titles during his career. Rodman is also 23rd in NBA history in total rebounds and 12th in rebounds per game.
If you can impress Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, and Winter, you clearly have special skills. Rodman never blew away his teammates or coaches with his offensive talents, but his energy, basketball acumen, and ability to wreck an opponent’s offensive gameplan with his elite defensive ability never went underappreciated in Detroit or Chicago.