Skip to main content

Over the years, Isiah Thomas crossed paths with plenty of legendary NBA players. The Pistons guard went head to head with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, among others, and played during one of the best eras in basketball history. While that reality might make it hard to hand out superlatives, Zeke had at least one ready to go.

During an appearance on the All the Smoke podcast, Thomas highlighted Dennis Rodman as the best athlete he ever saw on the professional hardwood. And, if that wasn’t high enough praise, he also remembered his former teammate as a true genius.

Sound like high praise for the Worm? Let’s take a closer look at what his old teammate had to say.

Isiah Thomas still has plenty of praise for Dennis Rodman

Given his seemingly unending beef with Michael Jordan, it’s easy to think that Isiah Thomas has been munching on some sour grapes. The former Detroit Piston, however, is still able to hand out some high compliments.

On the All the Smoke podcast, Stephen Jackson asked Thomas for a quick memory of Dennis Rodman. While it would have been easy enough to say a few words and move on, Zeke had some extremely positive comments ready to go.

“Best athlete I’ve ever seen probably in the NBA,” Thomas said without missing a beat. “Not the highest jumping but just the best athlete. Like I never seen anybody who A) ran that fast and then quick jump like that. So, my first time playing with him, literally, he gets the rebound, kick it to me on the outlet pass. Right? And, so, I get on the outlet, and I’m dribbling to the middle of the floor to set the break. As I’m dribbling to the middle of the floor, now this dude just threw it to me, he down there underneath the basket waving for it. I’m like, ‘How the hell he get …'” So, of course it kick it up. But adjusting to his speed was the first thing I had to do.”

Isiah wasn’t done there, though. He also remembered how Rodman’s seemingly aloof behavior during warmups belied his basketball genius.

“And then, I never saw anybody scientifically break down rebounding the way that Dennis Rodman did,” Thomas continued. “So, our first, you know, our first couple of games, you know, we be in the lay-up line, and then he stopped. And he, you know, just stands under the rim. And, you know, used to be you lay it up, and after you do your lay-ups, then you start taking little, short pull-up shots, right? And, so, whenever we start taking short pull-up shots, he would stop. And, so, finally, you know, I’m like, ‘What you doing, man? Get in line.’ Like, you know … He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m counting.'”

While Zeke thought that Rodman was “a little strange” and was prepared to write this off as another quirk, everything eventually made sense.

“I’m like, ‘What you counting?'” Isiah added. “Like, I didn’t ask, ‘What you counting?’ I said, ‘What you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m counting. I’m counting the spins on the ball.’ He said, ‘When you shoot, your ball spin like three time. Joe sometimes spin four. This one spin …’ This dude was counting the rotations on the ball on every player. He knew how long it was going to be in the air, how many times it rotated, where it was gonna hit, where it would bounce. I had never seen nobody break down rebounding like that in my life. He was a genius, man. Dennis Rodman was a flat-out genius when it came to basketball.”

It’s nice to see Rodman get his flowers, especially given his pop-cultural presence

While Dennis Rodman obviously made his name as a basketball player, he’s become associated with so much more over the years. Between his unique appearance, romantic relationships, and, more recently, political involvements, it’s easy to think of the former forward as more of a sideshow attraction than anything else.

Through that lens, however, Isiah Thomas’ comments are worth hearing. The Worm, for all of his quirks, was a pretty good basketball player. This was a man, after all, who was never much of an athlete before experiencing a sudden growth spurt. He then worked his way to the NBA, where he became a key part of some legendary teams.

And, if you prefer stats to anecdotal evidence, consider the forward’s numbers. While he was never much of a scorer — he averaged 7.3 points per game across his career — Rodman owned the boards. During his 14 seasons in the Association, the Worm pulled 13.1 rebounds per outing; at his peak, he was averaging over 18 boards per night.

And, to make things even more impressive, remember Rodman’s statue. Rather than towering over the competition like Wilt Chamberlain, the Demolition Man only clocked in at 6-foot-7. His rebounding success was based on effort, athleticism, and insight, not simply standing taller than everyone else.

Isiah Thomas might not be the most popular man around — at least if Michael Jordan is any indication — but he did see plenty of legendary players up close and personal. If Dennis Rodman looms that large in his mind, that’s saying something.


Even Larry Bird Wondered Why Isiah Thomas Wasn’t on the Dream Team Roster