Retired NBA legend John Salley played in the NBA for 11 years suiting up for the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
During that time, the Brooklyn, NY native who became the first player in NBA history to play on three different championship-winning franchises has graced the court with talented folks including Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal and future HOF’er Kobe Bryant.
Salley also has had the opportunity to play with one of the best rebounders to ever play in the NBA in Dennis Rodman.
Salley, who holds the distinction of being the first player in NBA history to win a championship in three different decades actually won a championship with Rodman in with the ‘89 Detroit Pistons. He won another with The Worm in ‘96 as a member of the Chicago Bulls.
Colorful hair, rockstar lifestyle, painted nails and more, what’s Dennis like?
“In Detroit even though he was older than me, Dennis was the youngest guy on the squad because he didn’t have more life experiences than me,” John Salley told me on Scoop B Radio.
“But in Chicago, he was open.”
Rodman headlined the Bulls’ big 3 that included Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan and was coached by Phil Jackson.
To Salley, Rodman’s transformation was like night and day.“It was like he had eaten an apple that made him see what life was like,” said Salley.
“Our work preparation in Detroit was always, we were coming from behind because we were the underdogs. But in Chicago, he had come into his own and realized that no one can do what he can do. Nobody was as strong, nobody was built like him, nobody was as determined, nobody could do the things that he could and he realized that and he played along with it and decided to become Jimi Hendrix and Jim Larsen, at the same time while playing basketball. So he was just a different cat.”
While scoring a shade over 7 points during his career, Rodman averaged 13.1 rebounds per game for his career and lived his best life on those late 90s Chicago Bulls teams.
He picked his prey by getting into the heads of Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. He even got into verbal spars with former Houston Rockets big man, turned TNT analyst, Charles Barkley and the New Jersey Nets’ Jayson Williams who were all league leaders in rebounding.
“Dennis thought all the way through,” said Salley.
“And he’d figure out that if he studied everything that a guy did on offense and figured out what to not let them do before you get to a certain point, Dennis would stop you at the first point and not let you get to your flow.”
Salley believes that by Phil Jackson giving Rodman the freedom to be himself in the Bulls locker room, it translated onto the basketball court where it allowed the eccentric player to give it his all. “In Chicago, while Phil [Jackson] was talking, he would take a shower and go get dressed,” said Salley.
“Next thing you know, he was on the court; ready to go and at the end of the game, he [Dennis Rodman] would be on his bike doing cardio.”
“Phil wouldn’t say anything. He would just let him flow. With anybody else, it would be like: ‘you get in here with everybody else.’ But Phil knew that he was in his world and when he is in his world he turns out to be this unbelievable thing. And believe it or not, running the triangle offense for some people is hard. When Dennis picked it up, he was unstoppable because he was still able to get his rebounds one-on-one because when he’s in the triangle, if he’s in the lane with just one or two other people in there with him, they weren’t going to beat him for the rebound.”
Rodman began his career in the NBA at the small forward position. He’d later shift to the power forward when he played for the San Antonio Spurs and was famously traded by the Spurs to the Chicago Bulls by current Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
Rodman’s small forward physique helped him maneuver for position for rebounds on the basketball court with bigger opponents. But his intelligence allowed him to savvily get into their heads. “He was quick, light on his feet and as strong as an Ox,” he said.
“So he stayed that way.”