Originally published June 9, 1998.
The Bulls’ blowing out the Utah Jazz on Sunday was followed by Dennis Rodman’s blowing off practice on Monday — then blowing into Detroit for a night of televised wrestling.
“There are some things worth missing practice for, brother, and that’s the NWO (New World Order),” Hulk Hogan, Rodman’s wrestling partner, said Monday night on TNT cable’s “WCW Monday Nitro” program.
Rodman’s basketball partners don’t necessarily agree.
“Dennis is going to do whatever he can to gain attention,” Michael Jordan said before Rodzilla’s cigar-smoking TV appearance. “We know that. That’s something that we’ve come to understand. What we really need Dennis to do is focus when we step on the basketball court and be in a cohesive mind, one mind.
“Sure, he’s not here today. I’m pretty sure Phil (Jackson’s) going to fine him or whatever, but I don’t think that’s going to deteriorate from what we’re trying to do collectively.”
The NBA plans to collect $10,000 from Rodman for missing the league-mandated media session at the United Center. He also faces a fine from the Bulls.
“This has been a difficult year for Dennis,” Bulls coach Jackson said. “It’s been difficult for him to focus. We’ve had a couple conferences and we’ve had a couple talks. Dennis has been fined scads of money, which goes to various charities around the area. He’s a very charitable guy in that regard.”
All this occurred before Rodman showed up in Auburn Hills, Mich., for the wrestling card that included Hogan, who praised him for tossing around Utah’s Karl Malone “like a dishrag.”
Rodman didn’t wrestle but did join with Hogan in hitting a rival wrestler with a chair at the end of the program.
“You got to calm down,” Rodman told the crowd. “Can I talk? Come on, Detroit. This is my home, right? I won my first championship in Detroit, right? You have no choice but to love me, right?”
Bulls fans can only hope he’s not looking for love in all the wrong places.
“If he misses (today), then that’s a whole different frame of mind,” Jordan said. “That’s something we have to address. With Dennis comes a lot of baggage. Unfortunately, this is one of the baggage areas we have to accept. How long will the organization accept it depends, but we know one thing: When he steps on the basketball court, he’s going to give us 110 percent. In some ways we have to put up with some of the baggage.”
“It’s just attention, being able to concentrate in the moment,” Jackson said. “If things aren’t important in the moment, they don’t seem to have a regard, a sense of urgency. If it’s important, he’s always there. He’s the kind of guy that you can really count on in emergencies and crises. Dennis seems to step up.”
As unlikely as it may seem after the Bulls’ 96-54 victory in Game 3, a crisis may be on the horizon. If Utah can win one of two games in Chicago on Wednesday and Friday, the Jazz will return to Salt Lake City with the home-court advantage it earned during the regular season and lost in Game 2.
As unlikely as it may seem, the Jazz’s lopsided loss may help the Bulls focus on Game 4 because of Utah’s determination.
“I think it will help us in some degree,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to be complacent with what we’ve done. We’ve been in the situation before. We know this is a time that’s critical to win a game and establish really the home court again, that we’ve got it and we’ve got to take care of it.”
“We’ve got to come out and re-establish that same type of dominance in Game 4,” said Scottie Pippen, who helped harass Jazz guard John Stockton into five turnovers.
“I go into every game as if it’s a do-or-die,” Stockton said.
Malone, who went 8-for-11 from the field but had seven of Utah’s 26 turnovers, might have a lingering thought about last game and the possibility the Bulls ran up the score.
“There definitely has to be some motivation because they were having a good time and they were obviously still taking threes when the game was well out of hand,” he said. “Our coach, (former Bull) Jerry Sloan, would have a fit if we did that. But it’s the championship, so you can’t feel sorry about that.”
“I thought we played into their hands,” Stockton said. “Nobody says because we’re down 30-something points, you can’t still guard a guy at the three.”
“I don’t think they were running it up at all,” Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said. “If we were up 20, our bench guys would try to score.”
“Whether you lose by one, 50, 60, it don’t matter,” Jazz forward Bryon Russell said. “It’s still a loss. They had fun doing so. I’d laugh, too.”
The Bulls realize every game will not seem as easy as Game 3.
“It’s the Finals, so we really shouldn’t feel great about the game (Sunday) and come into the game (Wednesday) like, `OK, we’re going to win easy because of that,’ “ said Toni Kukoc, who had four of the Bulls’ 13 steals. “We know it’s going to be a hard game. It might be the most important game of the series_for us and for them, as well. It’s like the only game that we have.”
“Blowout or not, they’re down 2-1, so they’re definitely going to come out with more intensity,” said Scott Burrell, who scored 10 of the Bulls’ 30 bench points. “They want to bring this thing back to Utah.”
“Our only thought now is it’s 2-1,” Bulls guard Steve Kerr said. “I always liked Danny Ainge’s quote that this is not the Tour de France. You don’t have a head start the next game or anything. You don’t keep a running total. It’s just 2-1. If they come out and play well and beat us Wednesday night, then they’re right back where they want to be and in control of the series again. This is a long way from being finished.”