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No flushing the freak out of ex-Bull Dennis Rodman

Former Bulls greDennis Rodman heads center court with game ball before  opening tip Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss Miami Hegame

Former Bulls great Dennis Rodman heads to center court with the game ball before the opening tip of the Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss to the Miami Heat in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday May 18, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 7:21PM



Officially, Dennis Rodman is . . . uh . . . well, a freak.

Really. I’ve known that for years. We all have. That was part of his schtick when the 6-7, 235-pound forward carved out an outstanding 14-year NBA career in which he won seven rebounding titles and two defensive player of the year awards, appeared in two All-Star Games and helped the Detroit Pistons win two championships and the Bulls three.

Dennis the Menace had a way of getting into his opponents’ heads. He’d anger them, make them call him ‘‘dirty’’ and encourage thunderous cheers from fans.

He reminded us Wednesday night at Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals that, apart from being a family man with a wife and children, he still is at least a part-time freak. He came to a pregame news conference heavily tattooed and poly-pierced, as usual. He then gave an X-rated interview.

He said, among many things, that he had just turned 50, is unemployed, has not touched a basketball in five years and loves Bulls center Joakim Noah.

‘‘He’s more like me, but taller,’’ Rodman said.

Plus, Noah’s a better shooter.

Toward the end, Rodman was overwhelmed by our continued admiration. His voice began to break. He started crying and disappeared behind some black curtains.

I followed him and assured him that all was well and that real men do cry.

He agreed and told me, “Yeah, [expletive], I know real men cry. But it’s just hard for me to be here.’’

Now, this author, actor and cross-dresser has deservedly Wormed his way into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Rodman is still a sleek freak. And I say that affectionately because I always loved how he played basketball. He always has been kind to me, and there is — admit it — some freak in us all.

I also say this officially because the mainstream definition of ‘‘freak’’ is ‘‘a person with something unusual about his appearance or behavior or ability.’’

In terms of basketball talent, I’ve been covering pro basketball for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen a guy Rodman’s size play like he did and shut down opponents who were half a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. When he played for the Bulls from 1996 to 1998, I remember 7-1, 335-pound Shaquille O’Neal trying to back Rodman into the paint to posterize him with a dunk. But Rodman would body up, using his leverage and pelvis to impede Shaq’s progress.

Sometimes he would, as we say, pull the chair out from under his opponents and force a travel. Sometimes he’d use the slightest contact to propel himself backward as if he’d been shot out of a cannon and win a charging call.

So in the basketball sense, he was a freak.

But, again, as a person, he’s even more so. I’m happy that he’s going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August. But if he continues to be the Dennis Rodman we interviewed Wednesday, he’s going to give an acceptance speech that will be the epitome of obscenity and freak out all of us.



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