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Dennis Rodman and the ‘Rare Bird’ SI Cover

John W. McDonough describes photographing the forward (and his blue macaw).
dennis-rodman

As John W. McDonough drove to Dennis Rodman’s San Antonio house one Sunday in May 1995, the veteran photographer wasn’t sure what the upcoming shoot would look like. His solution? Listen to Pearl Jam over his car speakers to see if he could spark any inspiration and get in the right headspace.

“Dennis is a Pearl Jam fan, a hardcore fan. I’m a Pearl Jam fan,” McDonough says. “I’m cranking it up. That’s all I listened to on the way out to his place.”

Upon arrival, McDonough and his assistant began unloading their equipment toward the back of the flamboyant forward’s house. It was there that McDonough saw cages with macaws in them. “That’s in the f---ing picture,” he thought to himself.

dennis-rodman

When Rodman encountered the photographer that day, he asked if he could do the shoot naked.

“I mean, why not be a little risqué? Push the envelope,” Rodman is quoted as saying in Michael Silver’s profile.

McDonough, who first photographed for Sports Illustrated in 1982, wasn’t sure of the answer so he called his editors at the magazine’s New York office. He learned that Rodman had to wear clothes for the shoot. The Spurs forward could, however, wear whatever he wanted.

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“That’s the one thing I think Dennis and I got about each other, is that I want you to be who you are,” McDonough says. “That’s the kind of portrait I want to take of you.”

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For the eventual cover shot, Rodman wore a shiny tank top, metallic hot pants and a rhinestone dog collar. In the iconic image, Rodman leans back in a spotted chair with a blue macaw perfectly perched on his right hand.

But the addition of the bird also made the shoot more complicated. As McDonough captured film on his Hasselblad camera, the macaw flapped its wings and dug its claws into Rodman.

dennis-rodman

“It was a whirlwind tour, it was just kinda crazy, stressful, fun, hilarious, all of the emotions that you can come up with,” McDonough says. “Then I left and I was like, please don’t lose this when we ship it on an airline.

“The pictures ended up being who Dennis really is.”

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As John W. McDonough drove to Dennis Rodman’s San Antonio house one Sunday in May 1995, the veteran photographer wasn’t sure what the upcoming shoot would look like. His solution? Listen to Pearl Jam over his car speakers to see if he could spark any inspiration and get in the right headspace.

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