Nobody loves Michael Jordan more than Dennis Rodman. That much is evident based on Rodman’s episode of “Detail” on ESPN+, which arrived this week as members of the Bulls team featured in The Last Dance trade off breakdowns of the Triangle and what made those Chicago teams tick.
Right away, Rodman gets down to it. After a clip where Rodman finds Jordan for a layup off a backdoor cut — a perfectly executed Triangle set — Rodman says, “He’s god.”
Rodman continues: “We’ve got a very easy option, because you’ve got the greatest player in the world” standing as a decoy in the corner. After the defense over-plays Jordan, the GOAT jukes to the baseline and gets free for an easy layup.
And we’re off to the races. Most of the clips Rodman talks through are from an early-season contest against Dallas that include him operating as the play-maker in the post, a learned maestro of the vaunted Triangle. In reality, though, Rodman makes it sound as easy now as he made it look in his heyday.
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While a contest against the anonymous Mavericks may seem a peculiar choice (Scottie Pippen didn’t even play in the game), you quickly realize Rodman selected this matchup because it shows him punking 7-6 Shawn Bradley — and, as explored in The Last Dance, he became more of an offensive focal point when Pippen was out.
“It’s very difficult to keep anyone that’s 7’6 out of the paint, I don’t give a damn if you’re 190 pounds, it’s very hard to keep someone out of the paint if (they’re) that tall,” Rodman says.
Rodman forces Bradley into bad shots, noting that despite being plodding and massive, Bradley played like a guy who was a skilled power forward. Rodman jokes that it’s obvious Bradley’s dream was to be a superstar who averaged 20 a game, which contrasts nicely with the buy-in that made Rodman’s career so special.
Transitioning from his defensive tactics on Bradley to his role in the Triangle, Rodman shows how he would turn one into the other as a player. He highlights a play in which Dennis Scott chucks up a poorly thought-out floater over the long arms of Toni Kukoc and misses.
Says Rodman: “Guess who gets the rebound? I do, of course. And then the first thing I always do when I get a rebound is take a dribble and just throw an outlet pass. I’m one of the few people in the world who can actually do something like this: Get a rebound and throw an outlet pass, a dead-on, spot-on outlet pass.”
Off to the races once again. Check it out:
It’s awesome to see a player whom we normally think of as defense-only break down the entirety of his team’s offense like this. Rodman just isn’t a guy that anyone associates with play-making, but time and again, he shows us how his brain helped keep the Triangle churning. All these years later, Rodman has a preternatural instinct for his teammates’ strengths and tendencies. He harps on the trust this team had built up, such that they were able to play at a high level, even without Pippen.
“Of course, I don’t want to shoot the ball,” Rodman admits. His job was to “be the bad guy” and hold things together.
Rodman is quick to admit, however, that Jordan sacrificed a lot as well. Rodman highlights another nice Triangle set in which Jordan has to screen for Steve Kerr to get open from deep as evidence. In The Last Dance, we see the process play out in the playoffs in the early 1990s, as Jordan begins to understand how he can create easy shots for shooters like Kerr or John Paxson based on how much attention defenses aim at Jordan.
By 1997-98, the season documented in The Last Dance, Jordan was operating at the peak of his Triangle powers, as much as piece of the system as the star around which it orbited.
When the Bulls couldn’t get a great shot or simply missed, it didn’t get much better than Rodman to clean up mistakes. Because he operated out primarily out of the post, and as Phil Jackson explained in the first part of this series, Bulls coaches mandated that two players hit the offensive glass on every possession, Rodman was constantly in position to gobble up misses.
“That’s basically what the triangle’s all about,” Rodman says. “Even when a play is broken down, we still form a triangle, and all of a sudden you’ve got a good shot.”
To be fair, it would actually be cooler to hear Rodman go into even more detail about his mentality on rebounding, though that’s something he’s done in interviews before. Maybe that would just be interesting for the nerdiest of basketball fans, and of course hearing him wax about the Triangle and the deity status of MJ is great, too.
The episode’s 16 minutes just felt way too quick. Rodman could go on for hours and most would listen, but until then, we’ll have to wait for the next installment, which sounds like it will be from Kerr.