Most of today’s NBA fans can remember Dennis Rodman when he was helping the Detroit Pistons win NBA championships. An even greater percentage of people who enjoy the NBA can recall his contributions to the Chicago Bulls’ championship runs in the years following his tenure with the Bad Boys of the Motor City. Yet, I would wager that far fewer can recite his career with San Antonio, the Lakers or the Mavs.
Most of his career was based on a few “re” factors: re-bounding and re-belling. The reason people don’t have memories of his time with the Spurs - even though it was in between his stints with the Pistons and the Bulls - is due to a third “re:” re-spect. Rodman had some unique skills (for the purposes of this blog, I’ll limit them to the “on the court” kind). Snatching missed shots was one, but not respecting authority, be it his coaches or referees, was just as pronounced a skill in his life - and it led toward his team’s lack of success just as the rebounding aided in their winning.
With people who “had the hammer,” e.g. Coach Chuck Daly and teammates Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer with the Pistons and Coach Phil Jackson and teammates Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper, Rodman acted up, but showed respect, or at least enough respect to be given some rope so he could “act the fool” - up to a point. At San Antonio, Los Angeles and Dallas, his lack of respect caused more discipline problems (often translating in losses) than his talent could to help them win.
We’ve seen other versions of this “respect or the lack of it” theme since Rodman and I’m not in any way suggesting he was the first NBA player to disrespect his coaches, teammates or the game, but he’s the first that came to my mind. Since then, others who have picked up on this behavior are Latrell Sprewell, Allen Iverson, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury.
In Sprewell’s case, nearly everyone remembers him choking his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, being dragged away, only to return and take a swing at him (which grazed the coach). He was suspended for 10 games, the Warriors voided the remainder of his contract (nearly $24 million over three years) and, subsequently the NBA susoended him for 82 games. Over a year later, he was traded to the Knicks - and claimed he was a changed man. He focused his intensity to matters on the court and led the 8th-seeded Knicks to a first-ever (for a team seeded that low) spot in the NBA Finals where, despite his good overall play, they lost in five games.
Since he “retired” over what he and his agent called insulting contract offers, it’s been reported he is in deep debt. While he was suspended, I was with an NBA head coach and asked him if he thought Sprewell was a player he would want on his team. His response was, “Sure, I think he’s very under-valued.” The answer shocked me, but in the NBA, that’s what it’s come to - value for your money, i.e. it’s easier to deal with someone who might not respect you, than not have enough talent because if your people skills are good, he can help you win. Not enough talent gets you fired. But not having respect for people or money gets you broke.
Allen Iverson’s case is also complex. A little guy in a big man’s game, AI backs down from no one. Judging from his past (all the way back to high school), it seems like basketball isn’t the only venue Iverson refuses to back down - but that’s another story. While he was making mega-bucks with the 76ers (Philly was the perfect type of city for AI and they loved him), he once went off when his coach criticized him for not attending practice. His “Practice?“ tirade is one that ranks alongside Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?” and Herm Edwards “You play to win the game!” as the three most often repeated lines when the topic of a question the interviewee doesn’t feel relevant comes up.
Now, however, after leaving Denver (his stop after the Sixers traded him) and hearing his coach there, George Karl, come out and criticize him for selfish style of play, he is determined to lead his new squad, the Pistons, back to a championship. One problem: he skipped practice - yeah, practice - to stay and have Thanksgiving with his family. He didn’t tell anyone, didn’t receive permission from bosses and was the only team member not to show up. He has since apologized, claiming, “It’ll never happen again.” Believe it?
Baron Davis isn’t as known for his lack of respect mainly because he’s always played on such bad teams. Therefore, fans seldom get to see him. He has unreal talent - even compared to guys in a league loaded with talent, but has acquired the nickname of “Coach Killer” or “CK” for short. He met his match with Don Nelson and I’ve wondered on occasion if this isn’t the true reason, or at least one that played a bigger part than his wanting to go and make the Clippers a winner (ha!) with his buddy Elton Brand, who then signed a contract to play in Philadelphia. While CK could have opted to stay with Golden State (he had yet to sign his new contract), he said he would move anyway because he was a man of his word - me being the word. He’s an aspiring Hollywood director and Los Angeles is a better location, plus it’s home (he played high school ball at Crossroads, then went to UCLA for two years). Not surprisingly, there have been reports that Davis and Coach Mike Dunleavy have been at odds, to which Davis admitted, “There has been a disconnect.” Disconnect - must be a “director’s” word.
Finally, we come to the poster boy for unrealized potential - Stephon Marbury. “Starbury” comes from a basketball playing family - brothers Eric (Georgia), Donnie (Texas A&M) and Norman (called Ju-Ju, who signed with Tennessee but failed to qualify academically). Selfishness ran in the family if you ever watched the Marburys play and, being the youngest and most talented, Steph was going to be it all and have it all. He went to Georgia Tech and played well, leading the Jackets to the Regional Semifinal game. Everyone in the world of college basketball knew he was going to declare himself for the NBA draft following his freshman season, but he wouldn’t make the announcement public.
This became the beginning of the end for Bobby Cremins and Georgia Tech. Any talented point guard Tech tried to recruit would ask Cremins if Marbury was coming back. He’d tell them what was common knowledge, but rival schools kept telling these prospects that if he was going to enter the draft, why hadn’t he said so. Put 2 and 2 together, they’d tell prospects: he was coming back (none of them had that big an ego they thought they could beat out Stephon Marbury - recruiting at the highest level is one of the nastiest businesses you’ll ever find). For whatever reason, Marbury kept putting off his announcement. When he finally made it public, all the great point guards were gone.
Fast forward to today. Marbury still has that sense of entitlement. He’s making an absurd amount of money, not earning even a small percentage of it and when his new coach, Mike D’Antoni (he’s feuded with all the others he’s had) told him to go into the game (due to injuries on the team), he refused. Next year, he’s due $20.8 million and initially said he wouldn’t take a penny less. He hasn’t done anything to deserve it and has no consideration for how the economy is affecting everyone else (although, technically, it’s not his problem, if all of us took on his attitude, the US wouldn’t be one of the most desirable places to live - as it is now). He’s become a cancer and as with all cancers, the best thing to do is cut it out.
The Knicks have suspended him so the NBA Players Association has filed a grievance on Marbury’s behalf. I wonder who in the Players Association would want to publicly go to bat for him. Sounds like a case for Mark Geragos, Gerry Spence or some other lawyer who has the ability to check their conscience at the door.
At one of my nine college jobs, we had a player who was talented, but had the knack for getting into more than just mischief. One day, his high school coach (who liked him, but also understood him) described this kid to my boss with a line I’ve never forgotten, even though it’s decades old:
“I think he’s finally become more problem than he is player.”