By Steven O’Connor
Rodman and the Lakers
After winning his fifth NBA Championship and his third straight with the Chicago Bulls, what was next for Dennis Rodman? Following the success of the 1997/98 NBA season, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause had decided to break up the team and start fresh with younger (and cheaper) players which saw the majority of the Championship Dynasty go their separate ways. Scottie Pippen left as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Houston rockets, Michael Jordan announced his second retirement and Dennis Rodman was officially waived by the Bulls in January 1998.
Following his release, Dennis continued to live up to his image of the party animal and many wondered if his days in the NBA were over. Dennis though had other ideas. He decided that he could still contribute to a championship contending team and on February 23rd 1999, he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. On paper, this signing was perfect. Despite being 37 years old, Rodman, who had won 7 consecutive rebounding titles, was still in terrific shape and would join up with a young and hungry duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He could have been a valuable asset to a team that was trying to reclaim the glory days from years past, however this wasn’t the fairytale story that it should have been. The love affair was a rocky one from the start and in total he played 23 games for the Lakers and the results on the court were not what was expected of the team. As was always the case with Dennis Rodman, he put on a show and gave the fans their monies worth any time he stepped on to a basketball court.
It seems though that wherever Dennis Rodman went, controversy followed. After reports of Rodman showing up late and being sent from practice and allegedly refusing to re-enter games due to injury, the Lakers eventually had enough and waived Dennis on April 16th 1999.
I personally think they made a huge mistake. Dennis was always going to be Dennis, Phil Jackson knew that in Chicago and then Lakers coach Kurt Rambis should have too. Was Dennis a little too laid back and immature during his time at the Lakers? Probably, but that was to be expected with Rodman and you had to know how to coach him, keep him happy and keep him under control. Had Phil Jackson had been in charge I think we would have seen a lot more of Rodman in Los Angeles and not only that, the Lakers would have enjoyed much success, which they ultimately did under Jackson. When Jackson took charge in time for the 1999/00 season Dennis was looking to make another comeback and would only play for Phil Jackson. The door was open for Dennis but it quickly closed as the Lakers weren’t 100% sure that Rodman’s full attention and focus would be on the game. He had become accustomed to being the party animal. His drinking, partying and gambling became a lifestyle that was beginning to get the better of him.
Were the Lakers premature in cutting Dennis? Should Phil Jackson have given him another shot knowing that he may have been the one who kept him in check? Just imagine Kobe, Shaq and Dennis, with Phil Jackson as their coach, taking advantage of an NBA that had recently said goodbye to Michael Jordan. The sky was the limit and we may well have seen Dennis grab championship number 6 and possibly more. Sadly it wasn’t to be and like many scenarios in the NBA we were left to wonder ‘What If’?
John Starks The Bull
Like many people, I didn’t see much of the NBA after the Chicago Bulls Dynasty ended in 1998, although it was not by choice. Now, thanks to the wonders of Sky TV, ESPN and the internet, I can now follow my Bulls without fail. I’ve spent a long time now catching up on everything I’ve missed, the dark days of the post-Jordan era, the Los Angeles Lakers multiple championships, players coming and going for several teams. Many players have come and gone for the Bulls such as Tyson Chandler, Jalen Rose, Ben Wallace, Will Perdue and BJ Armstrong even came back briefly, Hersey Hawkins, John Starks…. Wait, What?! John Starks? Surely not the same… yes, the very same. I couldn’t believe it. The long time rival and hated John Starks of the New York Knicks, who made life very uncomfortable for Jordan and his Bulls during the 90s. I suppose stranger things have happened. Haven’t they?
As part of a three-team trade which saw Toni Kukoc sent to Philadelphia, John Starks found himself in Chicago after leaving the Golden State Warriors. I’d love to have seen his face when he first heard the news. From what I can gather, no video evidence exists of Starks as a Bull but if I am wrong, please someone point me in the right direction. I now have a couple of pictures of Starks in a Bulls uniform that proves that it did actually happen and I wasn’t imagining things. Bulls coach Tim Floyd was enthusiastic about the deal because, love him or hate him, Starks could play, and play hard. Sadly, the Bulls fans were a little less enthusiastic. Making his debut from the bench against the Los Angeles Clippers on February 19th 2000, Starks was booed by the majority of the home fans at the United Centre whenever he touched the ball. Starks expected this reaction though and over the next few games he just played basketball and tried to help his team and didn’t play too badly. In a perfect world, Starks could have just got on with his job and been a help to a struggling Chicago Bulls team. This was not to be the case. It was clear from the start that he didn’t want to be on this team and fans weren’t too thrilled to have him there either. He wanted to play for a playoff contender which was maybe asking too much considering that his best years were behind him. He was even willing to forfeit the remainder of his salary to do so.
After a lengthy process of trying to break free from his Bulls contract, a process which involved the agents, the Bulls, lawyers and the NBA officials, Starks finally got his wish and was waived by the Bulls. He rescinded his initial offer to give up his remaining salary and was not eligible to play for a playoff team. He eventually signed for the Utah Jazz in time for the 2000-01 season.
Should the Bulls fans have just let bygones be bygones and welcomed Starks to Chicago? I would imagine that if the Bulls fans could warm up to Dennis Rodman, (rival from Detroit Pistons) then they could warm up to anyone. Why was John Starks so different? If he was welcomed in Chicago could he have been a help to this team and made them even a little better than they were? Maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to leave so badly. We will never know.
Want to chat to Steven on Twitter? Follow him at @St3ven91 and feel free to talk anytime.