Dennis Rodman's voice is barely audible over the music blasting
from the speakers in the back of the black emerald Bentley.
Still, he covers his mouth and leans close to a passenger to
ensure that his words aren't heard by the car's driver, Dwight
Manley, who serves as Rodman's agent and business manager. "This
is my doing," Rodman says of the grandiose marketing campaign
that, over the last 1 1/2 years, has brought him near-icon
status and a fortune in endorsement earnings. "Everything goes
through me, but Dwight clears the path. He makes these things
Up front, the man who plows the dirt for the Worm is zigging and
zagging down the crowded San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles,
demonstrating the same sharp moves he uses to steer Rodman's
business affairs, which he began handling in July 1995. His
ability to translate Rodman's outrageousness into profitable
deals has helped to rescue Rodman from bankruptcy and turn him
into a multimillionaire.
Manley is also Rodman's pal, an unlikely friend, to be sure. On
the surface he and Rodman are opposites. Rodman is a former
airport janitor who grew up in the rough Oak Cliff projects of
Dallas. Manley sprang from an affluent neighborhood in Orange,
Calif., a shy, nervous kid whose love for coin collecting earned
him his first million by age 23. Rodman hangs out in nightclubs.
Manley, who doesn't drink, prefers the golf course of the
exclusive Newport Beach Country Club. Rodman, 35, is tough and
intimidating. Manley is 30, but his soft voice and boyish face
make him seem younger. For every earring and piece of leather in
Rodman's wardrobe there's a sweater vest and a pair of khakis
hanging in Manley's closet.
On this sunny afternoon in November, Manley looks like a
hungover college fraternity boy rushing to an 8 a.m. class. A
pair of baggy basketball shorts and a sweatshirt hang from his
narrow 6'3" frame, and his thick brown hair is matted. But his
appearance isn't important for the day's chores. The Chicago
Bulls are in Los Angeles to play the Clippers, and Manley is
never busier than when Rodman is in town. Today's schedule: Eat
breakfast with Dennis, then drive to a magazine photo shoot,
then to Newport Beach to see a $975,000 beach house they jointly
own and, later, to the offices of the Rodman Group, the
management company started by Manley and Rodman, which handles
Rodman's affairs. "I offer full service," Manley boasts. "Most
agents just handle the contract, but my staff [of six] and I do
Rodman had no need for such attentions in the past because as
Rodman's lawyer, Richard Howell, says, "no one would touch
Dennis." At the start of the Manley-Rodman partnership, Rodman's
marketability was zilch. He was known simply as the unruly
forward for the San Antonio Spurs. He was reportedly close to $1
million in debt and was earning less than $100,000 annually from
But where everyone else saw Rodman as a business manager's
nightmare, Manley looked across the crap table when they first
met, at a Las Vegas casino in 1993, and saw "a diamond in the
desert that just needed some polishing," he says. "It was so
obvious." During the off-season of '95 Rodman moved into a room
at the back of Manley's house in Orange and turned his
off-the-court business affairs over to Manley.
By this time the two men had become close friends, their similar
painful experiences overshadowing their external differences.
They shared lonely pasts marked by broken families. Manley also
wasn't afraid to criticize Rodman. "Dennis used to say he was
sick of the Spurs, and he was going to hold out," Manley says.
"I said he had a contract, so he should keep his word. He said,
'F--- you!' but at least he knew I wasn't a yes-man."
Manley's self-confidence stems from his past as a rare-coin
dealer. "Coin collecting was my escape from my parents' divorce
when I was six," says Manley. "It started when I found a 1911
penny and learned I could sell it for 15 cents."
Manley skipped college to take a job with a coin dealer and
within a year had gone into business for himself. He sold the
business when he got involved with Rodman but still deals coins
on the side and does consulting work for the Federal Trade
Commission and the IRS in cases involving valuable coins.
Manley's first chore as a business manager was to keep Rodman in
basketball. "Dwight was looking at representing a guy who wasn't
going to play anymore," says Howell. "Dennis would sit in
Dwight's house and stare off into space, saying, 'I'm not
playing, I'm not playing.'" The only endorsement Manley could
scrape up for Rodman was a Psychic Hotline TV commercial that
But the October 1995 trade that sent Rodman from San Antonio to
the highly visible Bulls and their liberal-minded coach, Phil
Jackson, helped change Rodman's mind-set and his fortunes.
Rodman's next big break came when Manley made a deal with
Delacorte Press to publish Rodman's autobiography Bad As I Wanna
Be, which has sold more than 800,000 copies.
Last summer Rodman costarred with Jean-Claude Van Damme in the
action feature Double Team, scheduled to be released this week.
That, plus several fast-food restaurant ads, a pact with Kodak
(which made Rodman the company's first spokesperson since Bill
Cosby) and other deals brought Rodman's 1996 nonbasketball
income to $9 million.
Most of these deals, including one that Rodman and Manley
recently made with the World Wrestling Federation to appear in
matches this summer, wouldn't have come about if Rodman hadn't
re-signed with the Bulls after last season. Rodman was demanding
$10 million, several million more than the Bulls were offering.
By this time he had parted company with his previous agent, Bill
Pollak, and replaced him with Manley. Seeing almost any other
city as a waterloo for Rodman's endorsement potential, Manley
faced off with Chicago management and got Rodman a one-year deal
worth $9 million, a considerable boost from his 1995-96 salary
of $2.5 million.
"That wasn't pressure," Manley says of negotiating Rodman's deal
with the Bulls. "Pressure is buying a $5 million coin collection
and having to sell it for profit when you don't even have $1
million in the bank in the first place."
Manley learned a new definition of pressure this winter after
Rodman's most foolhardy act to date--kicking a courtside
cameraman in Minneapolis on Jan. 15. "The repercussions of
anything he'd done before were a pittance compared to what was
at stake this time," Manley says.
He wasn't referring to the 11-game suspension or $25,000 fine
levied by NBA commissioner David Stern. A meeting with Converse
CEO Glenn Rupp to sign a $2 million contract had been scheduled
in Chicago for what turned out to be the day after the kicking
incident. The victim, Eugene Amos, was pressing charges of
battery, and there was no guarantee that the NBA would even
allow Rodman to play again. Rupp was now wavering on the deal.
"I need to see how this plays out," he told Manley. "I thought
we were done," Manley says.
He pressed for a quick fix to avoid the publicity of a trial,
and when Rodman reached a settlement with Amos--who ended up
with $200,000 of Rodman's money--the charges were dropped and
everything fell into place. Rodman was allowed to rejoin the
Bulls after the All-Star break--though an injury to his left
knee on March 25 sidelined him for the rest of the regular
season--and the Converse deal was finalized. "They say that if
life slices you lemons, you should make lemonade," Manley says.
"We made lemon meringue pie."