NBA

Did Gregg Popovich Really Have It out for Dennis Rodman?

Dennis Rodman is no stranger to controversial media attention. After dating super-rockstar Madonna, he settled into a short-lived marriage to Carmen Electra in 1998, only to turn around and claim his bisexuality by marrying himself — dressed in full wedding gown, tiara, and makeup.

But, even his shocking relationship with the leader of the most well-known Hermit Kingdom of North Korea can’t outshine the brilliance of his career when he was at the top of his game.

Aside from his off-court antics, Rodman has long been considered a basketball genius, one of the best rebounders of all time, and a tenacious defender. In a recent Kevin Hart interview during the third season of his highly-rated show, Cold As Balls which airs on the Laugh Out Loud Network, Dennis Rodman expounded on the controversies surrounding his time with the San Antonio Spurs under General Manager and Coach Gregg Popovich.

Dennis Rodman sitting in a hat and sunglasses.
Dennis Rodman | Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

How Dennis Rodman left San Antonio

Dennis Rodman was only in his second year with the Spurs when Gregg Popovich joined the team as head coach. As it turned out, it would be Rodman’s final year with the Spurs.

Rodman had come to San Antonio by way of the Detroit Pistons. While he was still considered a serious player for the Spurs, he had become a distraction off-court and was difficult to deal with in practice and on-the-court after the departure of Spur’s Head Coach Chuck Daly

It became obvious to both the fans and the NBA that Dennis Rodman was dealing with not just behavioral problems, but emotional issues also. He was still valued on the court — but that was only when he was settled down enough to concentrate on the game. Covered in tattoos and sporting platinum blonde hair, is it possible that Rodman’s style didn’t sit well with the Spurs new GM Gregg Popovich.

During the Cold as Balls interview, Rodman looked back on that tumultuous year with the Spurs, claiming that Popovich didn’t like Rodman “at all.” It is true that Popovich is known for his spiritually, treating the before-game prayer as a serious tactic for winning.

According to Rodman, GM Popovich considered him “the devil”. True to Rodman’s spirit, he jokes that he wasn’t being paid to be nice, he was being paid to win. 

While the city of San Antonio embraced Rodman’s contribution to the Spurs which included an average of 19 rebounds per game, 68 wins for the season, assisting David Robinson to his MVP for that year, Dennis Rodman states that Popovich “hated my guts because I wasn’t a Bible guy.” 

The relationship was so contentious, that Gregg Popovich traded the flamboyant forward to Chicago for Will Perdue. Rodman took this move as a huge insult and proof that Popovich had it out for him the whole time.

Rodman with the Chicago Bulls

Dennis Rodman also discussed his time with the Chicago Bulls, playing alongside Michael Jordan during the team’s successful run for 3 NBA championship titles (1996-98). 

During one of his first press conferences for the team, Rodman remembers how he took off his hat to show he had dyed his hair red and turned around to show the shaved emblem of the Chicago Bulls. He was ready to go in and make a difference — despite all the heavy press that was following him!

As for his relationship with Jordan, Rodman filled that crucial power forward void for the Bulls — and two seemed to get along on the floor without much fanfare.

While the 34-year-old played under coach Phil Jackson, he averaged 14.9 rebounds per game, 5.5 points, and won another title as the greatest rebounder for the season. The Bulls won an incredible 72 out of the 82 regular games with Dennis Rodman, setting an NBA record at that time.

In all fairness, Rodman and Popovich are not the first or the last player and coach that didn’t mesh well, despite both having incredible talent. DeMarcus Cousins and Kings’ head coach George Karl didn’t get along. But, whether Popovich had it out for Dennis Rodman or not, being traded to the Chicago Bulls at that time in history — really wasn’t a bad deal after all.