Let me make this clear at the outset: I don't care if Dennis Rodman spent every off-court moment lounging in an opium den while wearing a chartreuse negligee. (As far as I know, that didn't happen. The opium part anyway.) It's my feeling that, short of repeated felonious behavior that puts a player on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List, personal habits and moral character should not figure into Hall of Fame legitimacy equation in any sport. Halls of Fame house far more sinners than saints, so, Worm: This isn't about your personal life.
But you don't belong in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The 2011 class was announced Monday, though Rodman's election was announced a few days earlier. By Rodman. That's just how he does things, despite the fact that nominees are sworn to secrecy. Rodman was truly overwhelmed by the honor and I'm happy for him. But that doesn't change my thinking that he is unworthy of the honor.
Rodman was a memorable athlete to cover. During his rookie season in 1986, Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly called me over at a practice session to watch a Rodman parlor trick. "Dennis," he called to Rodman, "do that thing from midcourt." Rodman obediently stood at midcourt and tossed the ball behind his back toward the basket. I would guess that eight of 10 times he could hit the rim. Try that sometime. You don't get close. It spoke to his freakish athleticism, which was at the root of his NBA success.
But let's look at the case for Rodman's being a Hall of Famer.
• His madman rebounding, which produced seven extraordinary seasons in the '90s with averages of 18.7, 18.3, 17.3, 16.8, 14.9, 16.1 and 15.0.
• His versatile defense, which put him on the NBA's All-Defensive first team seven times and earned him two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
• His participation on five championship teams -- two with the Pistons and three with the Bulls during Michael Jordan's second three-peat.
Obviously, those are not minor accomplishments. But Rodman himself was surprised that the Pistons retired his jersey last Friday, since he played a supporting role during his seven seasons behind Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson. After joining the Bulls, he played a supporting role behind Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and sometimes even Ron Harper and Steve Kerr.
The Hall of Fame is not for supporting players.
Here are Rodman's scoring averages for his three seasons with the Bulls: 5.5, 5.7 and 4.7 points. And if you're going to tell me that scoring isn't everything, I agree with you, but would also note that the Hall of Fame isn't for players averaging four or five points a game. Even though the majority of Rodman's shot attempts came on put-backs close to the basket, his shooting accuracy never reached 50 percent in Chicago, and it was 43.1 in his final season there. He couldn't create his own shot and let's not even talk about him as a perimeter shooter. Oh, what the heck, let's talk about it -- he averaged 23 percent on three-pointers for his career.
Rodman was a great defensive player and rebounder, but both must be viewed through the prism of his having limited offensive responsibility.
When a player is not involved in the offense, he has plenty of opportunities to play hunker-down D and grab offensive rebounds. I would not go so far as to say that Rodman's offensive rebounding numbers are "padded," but I will insist that they would never have been so high had he been a viable scorer. The other great offensive rebounders -- Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley -- were all scorers, all-around players. Even Bill Russell, with the exception of scoring 9.9 points per game in his final season, never averaged below double figures and was frequently asked to get the Celtics a bucket.
If I'm looking for a final reason not to enshrine the Worm, I suggest that he was not always the greatest teammate -- sometimes late, sometimes undependable, sometimes a liability, having collected 212 technical fouls during his career. Again, that has nothing to do with his personal life -- it has to do with his basketball life.
It was a close call, but, had I been a voter, I would've come down on the "no" side for Rodman, who made it in his second year of Hall eligibility but the first time he was nominated. One of Rodman's 2011 classmates, Chris Mullin, an all-around player who also had a sterling college career on his résumé, had been kicked to the curb several times by Hall voters before he made it. Rodman gets in on his first nomination and Dream Teamer Mullin does not?
Consider this also: Spencer Haywood (a battler of personal demons a la Rodman) and Sidney Moncrief will never be in the Hall of Fame. No one can convince me that Rodman was a better player than those two.
Still, this isn't one of these what-an-outrage! columns. Though I don't agree with it, I understand the case for Rodman. I'll see his plaque in Springfield and remember with fondness covering one of the four or five best rebounders of all time ... and maybe the squirreliest.