Phil Jackson 'Diagnosed' Dennis Rodman as 'Mentally Handicapped' After WCW Match

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2020

Dennis Rodman delivers his address at his Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement during a ceremony as his former coach Phil Jackson looks on in Springfield, Mass., Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

Former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson said in 1998 he diagnosed forward Dennis Rodman as "mentally handicapped" and credited Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder for helping him stay on track.

Jackson explained to Rick Telander in an issue of ESPN The Magazine, which was republished Saturday ahead of the final episodes of The Last Dance documentary Sunday night, that Rodman's decision to take part in a WCW show rather than attend practice for the NBA Finals was a tipping point.

"That was the night he went to Detroit and wrestled with Hulk Hogan," he said. "The press really beat up on the whole team, but we survived because we know Dennis. People say I should be harsh with him, but they are ignorant. If people don't know by now that Dennis is mentally handicapped, what can I say?"

After the Bulls scored a 96-54 blowout victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Rodman flew to Detroit for a Monday episode of WCW Monday Nitro. He teamed up with Hogan to beat down Diamond Dallas Page.

His appearance set the stage for a tag team match at WCW's Bash at the Beach in July 1998, which saw Hogan and Rodman defeat DDP and Jazz star Karl Malone.

Rodman was back in the Bulls' rotation for Game 4. They won the series in six games.

"I have diagnosed him and I know he has a real problem with attention," Jackson told Telander. "I had 26 hours of graduate study in psychology and I know what I know. The harder you discipline him, the worse it gets. You just alienate a guy who has alienation problems already. What you have to have is patience. You have to accept him and say, 'Give me the best that you've got.'"

Rodman was also shown in The Last Dance taking time away from Chicago to party in Las Vegas.

"I actually think that Eddie Vedder, the Pearl Jam singer who's always hanging around with Dennis, is helpful for him," Jackson said in 1998. "He parties with Dennis and stays out late, but he has actually talked Dennis into coming back and playing a lot of times. He relates to Dennis because he's a performer."

Despite the off-court concerns, the New Jersey native enjoyed a terrific NBA career that featured five championships (two with the Pistons and three with the Bulls), two All-Star appearances and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards.