Dennis Rodman did some great things for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s, but leaving for a WWE match untimely during the 1998 finals was not his best move.
A controversial storyline that emerged during the Chicago Bulls 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz involved Hall-of-Fame forward Dennis Rodman leaving in the middle of the series to make it for a WWE match. This weird distraction for the team was highlighted in part 10 of the hit ESPN/ABC/Netflix documentary series focusing on that 1997-98 Bulls title-winning team called “The Last Dance”.
An often previously forgotten moment that happened in 1998 was when “The Worm” and Jazz Hall-of-Fame big man Karl Malone competing in WWE wrestling matches. But The Worm would miss a practice in the midst of the 1998 NBA Finals to compete in a WWE match and hang out with a legend of the sport Hulk Hogan.
WWE is not usually the first thought on the mind of a star like Rodman that is about to take part in a pivotal NBA Finals series where the Jazz were pushing the Bulls very hard. But Rodman was one of the most unique personalities ever to grace the NBA, so this move shouldn’t surprise all that many people.
This is a similar occurrence to when The Worm left in the middle of a key season the Bulls were in the midst of to just party in Las Vegas. He left in 1997 out of nowhere to blow off some steam and party it up in Vegas. Rodman would later come back and help the Bulls beat the Jazz the first time around in the NBA Finals, in June 1997.
Although, leaving for that WWE match in the midst of the 1998 NBA Finals seemingly didn’t hurt the Bulls all that much. In the end, the Bulls still took down the Jazz in a thrilling six-game series. And Rodman was having a good finals, where he registered one block per game and more than one steal per game. He also had two games with double-digit rebounds, and thrived in a reduced role as Toni Kukoc was getting more time on the floor.
The Bulls won four of the final five games in the 1998 NBA Finals, despite one of their biggest stars up and leaving to compete in another sport out of nowhere. Rodman didn’t play the biggest role in the Bulls nabbing that third crown in a row, and sixth in total, in 1998. But there for sure wasn’t a huge distraction that took the team’s attention away from beating the Jazz.
This is a good testament to how successful head coach Phil Jackson was in managing the different personalities of his best players. He didn’t take this weird storyline as a distraction, he just ignored it and found a way to get the Bulls their sixth title of the 1990’s.
Since the 1997-98 season was the last for Rodman in a Bulls uniform, it wouldn’t matter much that he made this move much over the long haul. Former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause would oust the legendary trio of Rodman, all-time great shooting guard Michael Jordan, and Hall-of-Fame forward Scottie Pippen the following offseason.
Rodman played two more seasons in the NBA following his third title with the Bulls in 1998. But he would only play in 35 regular season games combined between stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and hometown Dallas Mavericks before he called it a career. His career didn’t end on a great note in Dallas, but he surely rounded things out well in a Bulls uniform.
Clearly the Bulls were able to manage with all the distractions that Rodman brought to the table in his three seasons with the team. MJ and Pippen were great fits, as was Jackson as his head coach, alongside The Worm.