Dennis Rodman’s tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers was not exactly the highlight of his career, but he shared a story from that time on Tuesday during CBS Sports’ “Reiter Than You” with Bill Reiter. The video, which features Rodman saying he was so fed up with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s bickering that he went on a midseason gambling excursion with then-Lakers owner Jerry Buss, can be watched above.
“So I start playing, right, we won 10 games in a row,” Rodman said. “Ten games in a row when I got there, right? I said, ‘Jerry, I gotta take a break.’ One reason: Shaq and Kobe. I couldn’t deal with those [expletives]. I’m not going to lie to you: I couldn’t deal with them. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not used to this,’ right? I’m used to winning, but I can’t deal with these [expletives expletive-ing] every [expletive] game. Like, [expletive]. I mean, every, I’m like, [expletive], we’re winning, what? So I go and I say … ‘I’m so used to having calm and serenity and stuff like that.’”
Rodman said that Buss asked Rodman if he wanted to go somewhere, and he responded, “Yeah, I gotta get the [expletive] out of here.” The two of them then, according to Rodman, went to Las Vegas, where Buss gave him $200,000 to gamble beside him at the MGM.
“I lost $50,000 like in two minutes,” Rodman said. “I swear to God, I swear to god. I was like, ‘I can’t do this, man.’”
Most of the story checks out. After Rodman signed with the team in February 1999, Los Angeles did go on a 10-game winning streak, though Rodman didn’t play in the first game. He then missed three games and went to Vegas. Outside of what he said Wednesday, I’m not sure there’s any evidence that Buss accompanied him. Here’s how the Associated Press covered it at first:
The Lakers confirmed Sunday that Rodman missed practice the day before, and didn’t travel with the team to Sacramento for Sunday night’s game against the Kings -- the opener of a six-game road trip in nine days.
Meanwhile, ESPN reported Rodman was spotted playing blackjack at Caesars Palace on Sunday night.
Citing privacy regulations, Phil Cooper, vice president of public relations for Caesars Palace, said the hotel doesn’t reveal customer names.
Rodman wasn’t registered at the hotel early Monday afternoon. However, when the woman answering the phone at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel was asked if Rodman was registered there, she replied, “All I’m showing is the reservation was canceled.” It’s known that Rodman has been a guest previously at that hotel.
“There is nothing new today,” said Tom Savage, assistant director of public relations for the Lakers. “He’s on an excused leave of absence and he’s being paid. (The leave) is indefinite. He told us he had some personal, non-basketball issues he needed to handle.”
Savage said Lakers executives Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak would not comment on the matter.
And here’s how the Associated Press framed it later in a Rodman profile:
“He hasn’t really been negative that much,” said Shaquille O’Neal, who openly campaigned to get Rodman. “The stuff that he does or did, we all knew it was coming and we all were prepared for it.”
Well, maybe not for all of Rodman’s antics. He put the Lakers on hold for three weeks before he signed, angering part-owner Magic Johnson, who spoke for many when he said, “He’s driving me crazy.”
That was just the beginning.
Rodman disappeared two weeks after joining the Lakers, missing four games while he contemplated his basketball future and gambled in Las Vegas.
Bizarre behavior by most standards; normal for Rodman. He got paid during the absence, but said he was fined $100 a day for delaying his return.
“It was just gracious of them to let him go to Vegas and do some gambling,” O’Neal said without laughing.
Rodman was eventually cut seven weeks after joining the Lakers, with Jerry West saying in a statement that “we feel it’s in the best interests of the Lakers to end the relationship.”
If there’s anything to take from this, it’s that the Lakers locker room in the 1998-99 lockout season was a deeply weird place to be. Bryant, just 20 years old, was a starter for the first time, trying to establish himself as a star. Coach Del Harris was fired after 12 games and replaced with Kurt Rambis. And then there was Rodman and his particular brand of chaos. Compared to all that, all the recent Lakers drama seems relatively inconsequential.
Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, we incorrectly identified Jerry West as the gambling partner to which Rodman alluded, when in fact it was former Lakers owner Jerry Buss. We apologize for the error.