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Rodman always on the rebound

It was his rebounding skills and not his unique sense of style that put Dennis Rodman into the Hall of Fame. It was his rebounding skills and not his unique sense of style that put Dennis Rodman into the Hall of Fame. (Stephan Savoia/ Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / August 13, 2011

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SPRINGFIELD - The numerous tattoos, piercings and entourage were expected. What else to expect from Dennis Rodman’s trip to the Naismith Hall of Fame? Flamboyance is normal for Rodman.

Perhaps his goal was to overshadow his career accomplishments, or obscure the insecurities of the poor kid from Dallas who turned himself into one of sports biggest personalities, setting a trail for professional athletes who determine their own brand.

Last night, donning a black-glittered sweatsuit with Pistons and Bulls spelled on the back, Rodman held back tears during his 11-minute acceptance speech, finally attempting to make amends with his estranged mother, Shirley, who was in the audience.

It was a brilliant admission by someone who became a trailblazer in determining his fate, however adversely it affected his career. Although his appearance, off-the-court antics, and bizarre on-court behavior often blurred his impact as a remarkable rebounder and team player, Rodman did not apologize for his actions until last night.

What he proved during his 14-year NBA career with the Pistons, Spurs, Bulls, Lakers, and Mavericks was that an athlete could seize control of his image. While Michael Jordan cherished and protected his image almost obsessively, Rodman was a champion for self-expression, regardless of how it tarnished his public persona.

So why should he care now? Because deliberation and contemplation are the themes for every Hall of Famer this weekend in Springfield. The great ones consider what they could have done better, and Rodman is a great one. He outworked his opponents on the boards, leading the league in rebounding a whopping seven times, including three seasons of averaging 17 or more.

Rodman averaged in double figures in scoring just once in his career - his second season with Detroit - but he’s in Springfield because of hustle and sacrifice.

At 50, Rodman realizes his impact on the game, but he also understands how his selfishness and self-indulgence affected his family. The exhibitionism came at a cost. The expression was painful and has lasted into life after basketball, where he has endured troubles and demons.

But he seems willing to accept his detractors, because basketball, in the end, was his focus.

“I never imagined to be here,’’ Rodman said. “If you would have told me this 15 years ago, I would have told you I never knew what this was. It’s hard to be an entertainer and athlete and be a smart basketball player at the same time. As you can see, some guys try to do it but they don’t know how to put the game of basketball first. That’s one thing I did. Entertainment could come at any time of the ballgame.

“Thankful for me I went to Chicago, and they let me be the person I wanted to be. Everywhere I go around the world, you catch 8-, 9-year-old kids saying ‘Oh my God, I love you, I love you’ and [they’ve] never seen me play. You don’t know who I am. I haven’t had a job in 15 years, but I am relevant around the world. And I’m still being an integral part of people’s lives. I respected the game of basketball and that’s why I think I am here.’’

And NBA observers who judged Rodman’s every drop of dye, every ink of tattoo, and every marriage ceremony, acknowledged his greatness in spite of his strangeness. So that’s why he is here. He has spent the weekend respecting the Hall, mostly avoiding his brutal and sometimes painful honesty.

“I have one regret about playing basketball and being an athlete,’’ said Rodman, who has three children. “Being a father, a regret. That’s about it. Basketball, I would never change anything but off the court, it’s a whole different ballgame, bro. I would be there [with my kids] instead of being selfish. Instead of being the clown, the jester, the look-at-me-now type of person. If I would have took a few more days to understand what it was like to be a well-grounded and great human being instead of a great athlete, I think I would probably be a better person.’’

Rodman said he wanted his 10-year-old son D.J. to present him last night, and his second choice was Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, but he accepted Phil Jackson after the Hall of Fame committee made the decision. D.J. and Rodman’s daughter Trinity walked with their father down the aisle as he was introduced, and D.J. sported dad’s cowboy hat.

“I’m not going to live forever, I need to decide if I need to balance my life out with the party life or the scene or the other stuff in my life, or live my life and try to keep my family together and look at my kids be happy and grow up,’’ Rodman said.

“I don’t need the Hall of Fame to hold a major press conference to tell people how [bad off] I was. I don’t need this. This is to let people know I’m not just an entertainer. But to let people know I do have a family. I do have some cool kids. I do have a wife that’s living. I do have a mother that’s living. I have good, caring people that’s been through thick and thin with me and had my back.’’

Rodman seemingly had gotten so much out of this trip to Springfield.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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