The Specialists: Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, and a Call For Defense In The HOF
“I feel all great teams have two things in common: defense and rebounding. . .”
A constant argument around the water cooler, if you will, has been the presence of Dennis Rodman on the shortlist of candidates for the next basketball Hall of Fame class. I, personally, always felt Rodman was a candidate for the Hall of Fame, at least in my heart.
As a young lad I idolized the guy as a player (I can’t stress the player part enough). He embodied all that I desired to be in an athlete/basketball player.
As a larger guy with slow speed and a limited range offensively, I tried to utilize my low center of gravity, strength, and fair-to-medium hops to be an expert rebounder and defender.
My theory: leave no carom un-chased (even fighting for the rebound and not winning was a moral victory under the basket as it let the opponent know this will NEVER be easy) and make yourself a wall that others have to go through or around. I learned all of this from Dennis Rodman.
Rodman, often called the Worm, was better suited to the slightly insulting ‘Freak’. He was certainly as tall as the normal basketball player, but he was gangly and appeared immensely movable (and, when facing off with Karl Malone, he usually was), like a rag doll trying to maintain control during a rough windstorm.
Rodman had to utilize strange habits to compete: kicking out the legs on rebounds, boxing out his own teammates and driving his opponents crazy not necessarily with words (though it was known to happen), but with nearly uncomfortable physical attacks. Rodman would reach and grab where no other player would.
This made him a success, but it also made him an annoyance. Add the hair, the strange outbursts of insanity, and sporadic focus, Rodman was a polarizing figure, fighting to either be a big top event or a side-show attraction.
Despite all that, Rodman was a success almost anywhere he went (and not just because of Jordan). He won two titles in Detroit, was constantly in contention with the Spurs (when he wasn’t suspended), and made history as being a key component of the greatest team that ever graced this Earth, the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls (the two teams after that weren’t too shabby either).
Sure, he went into obscurity after that, serving strange tours of (short) duty with the Lakers and Mavericks, but on the whole, Rodman was a winner because he used his strangeness to amplify his talents and hide his weaknesses, his behavior sometimes being his tragic flaw, denying him the ability to play at times.
The main argument I hear AGAINST Rodman being in the Hall of Fame (besides "pfff, what a freak," like my Dad says) is that he is "just defense".
I actually find this a NECESSITY to his inclusion in a future Hall of Fame class. See, Rodman, as a player, was classified as two things: a rebounder and a defender, a guy known "just for defense".
This works for him in two ways.
One, his role is known. Besides his unpredictable behavior, Rodman was the easiest guy to plan for: box him out and try to force fouls. The fact that Rodman was so transparent on video, but so unbeatable in both categories is a testament to his status as Hall of Fame worthy.
Jordan, Pippen, LeBron, Kobe, you can’t predict what style of play or what magic trick they are going to provide a defense, a truly deadly and specialized skill meant only for the greats. But it works the opposite way too: if you can confound opponents when they know exactly what you are going to do, you are pretty damn good.
Two, for being such a, supposedly, offensively challenged player, Rodman was a popular, effective player in an era where defense was secondary to showstopping offensive plays.
Sure, this isn’t necessarily an on-court quality, but in a league where Rodman’s talents were always secondary to everyone around him, Rodman was a force to be reckoned with.
Despite a low career scoring average (he only averaged double figure points once and 7.3 for his entire career), those small amount of points could decide a game as Rodman was constantly fighting for offensive boards and even forgoing rebounds and just going for tap-ins.
Anyone who watched Rodman can remember him playing volleyball with opponents, who usually gave up once Rodman tapped the ball in the air seven times trying to get that one board.
The average margin of victory for some of those Bulls teams, especially the ’96 team, was the greatest of all time (over 15 ppg), but still, if you superficially break it down, Rodman’s eight was a key piece of that.
I think American sports suffer from an offensive obsession.
During the mid-2000s when the NBA was scoring, on average, about 90 ppg (it seemed), viewership was at an all-time low even though we were seeing some of the greatest fundamental defense ever. Rodman was long gone at that point, but defense needed to be supplemented with great offense to capture the love of the public.
For example, in the NFL, no one really looks back fondly at the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Bucs (save their fans) in their Super Bowl years because they were dominantly defensive teams with not a lot of offensive spark.
People want their teams to stop the enemy, but they want them to do it whilst scoring 50 points (in the NFL) or 130 points (in the NBA). Look at hockey, the NHL changed almost the entire offensive rule book to improve scoring.
Offense puts butts in the seats, which is fine.
Do You Think Dennis Rodman Should Be in the HOF?
Awards should be for a player’s effect on the game, not their effect on the people, and Dennis Rodman, boring 7.3 ppg on all put backs and all, should be a FAVORITE for the Hall of Fame due to his presence on the defensive end and, though the numbers don’t back it up over his entire career, being the best rebounder EVER to grace this planet.
In the modern era of basketball, when the height of players was at a much taller average and rebounding numbers were relatively down compared to the Bill Russell days, Rodman, from 1991 to 1998, averaged AT LEAST 14.9 rebounds a game.
Due to a lot of suspensions and a different focus early in his Detroit days (even though he still averaged between nine and 11 consistently), Rodman’s overall numbers don’t look as impressive compared to others. But those with eyes know Rodman was the best.
The Heisman Trophy is a victim of this offensive obsession, hardly ever awarding defensive players. The baseball Hall of Fame is even worse, focusing mostly on statistics.
The basketball Hall of Fame has not ever really had a specialist, and, John Stockton being the exception, all the members of the Hall of Fame were great scorers (or at least there when it mattered).
I think that has to change because there are other players, like Rodman, who deserve a shot because they effected entire games even when stats or popularity didn’t make it apparently so.
For example, after Rodman, I’d like to see Ben Wallace in the Hall of Fame (if he ever retires).
Rodman, at least in his Pistons days, played multiple roles on that team. Wallace has never had a role BUT to play defense and what a job he’s done.
His offensive output has been even worse than Rodman’s, never averaging double figures (his closest was 9.7), never averaging more than 6.4 in the last five years, and shooting a career FT percentage of 41 percent. Offensively, Ben Wallace is an absolute loss.
When it comes time to score, a team carrying Ben Wallace is really only fielding four guys on offense. And with someone OTHER than Ben Wallace, this would be detrimental to a team.
But Wallace was/is SO effective, the Pistons, who actually took a risk on the vagabond initially, didn’t mind making Wallace the leader of the team. He was/is SO effective on defense, his offensive skills could be ignored and the Pistons ended up winning despite the one-player less offensive schemes.
Like Rodman, Wallace was rewarded for his work ethic on defense (in a world where offense is desired) with four All-Star appearances (Rodman made two). He was named Defensive Player of the Year four times (Rodman was voted that twice).
Though he wasn’t as prolific a rebounder as Rodman, Wallace still led the league in rebounding twice and was in the top three for five straight years (Rodman won four rebounding titles and three other Top Three appearances). His team revolved around him, the rock, despite no offensive contribution.
This is a Hall of Fame player because his "specialization", which makes someone sound one-dimensional, was actually the building blocks of, literally, championship basketball.
We might not see Rodman in the Hall of Fame anytime soon and that will, indeed, be a shame. All voters are human and Rodman presents problems for people. Like my dad said above, he IS a freak socially and puts many a person off.
Wallace is a bit different but, according to basketball-reference.com, Wallace has a lower shot, percentage wise, of making the Hall of Fame then Rodman (Wallace is at 0.06 percent whereas Rodman at least has a 45 percent chance).
But we may need some fresh blood in the Hall of Fame. Putting coaches and announcers in there is one thing, but putting "specialists", if they must be called that, would show that the Hall of Fame is not just about popularity and what’s expected but is actually about the game itself!
Rodman and Wallace embodied basketball spirit and took teams to the pinnacle of success (multiple times). They should be rewarded with more than just statistical dominance.
When the years pass and the generations fade away, future enthusiasts should at least remember these guy’s names in the Hall of Fame, because they made an impact. It just didn’t necessarily have anything to do with a ball going into a hoop.
*This article originally appeared on a blog I used to write that no one read and no one knew existed. I've edited it to be more professional and readable for Bleacher Report.
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