In the 70-year history of the NBA, in a league with personalities and mystiques that tend to outshine the sport itself, Dennis Rodman manages, to this day, to be the player whose legend remains a tier above the rest. So much has been written, conjectured and analyzed about the Hall of Famer. The new “30 for 30” documentary “Rodman: For Better or Worse,” narrated by Jamie Foxx, provides a valuable and sympathetic look at how he became the man behind the myth.
Rodman’s tumultuous childhood is presented as the main contributing factor to all the endless controversies that followed in later decades. In a way, his childhood was a prolonged one. Shy and introverted to the extreme, with few interests and friends even in high school, his consistent conflicts with his family led to extended periods of homelessness. Like many “30 for 30”’s focusing on a single personality, Rodman is there to narrate it all in the image that is more recognizable today. Despite all the flash and outlandishness people know him for his inherent shyness is on display in these interviews. Deion Sanders, as portrayed in his own “30 for 30” earlier in the year, is as cocky and self-assured as ever in his interviews for the film, but when watching “For Better or Worse,” it is very easy to see how Rodman is still the soft-spoken teenager who got his late start at Southeastern Oklahoma State.
The film also features interviews with various figures from throughout Rodman’s life, each profoundly impacted by the man in extremely different ways. Foxx mentions at the beginning that reducing Rodman’s life story to a tragedy is a massive oversimplification, but hearing from his mother, former coaches, friends, teammates and others makes it hard to overlook the very tragic aspects of his life. Sure, words like ‘lunatic’ and ‘crazy’ are thrown around, but one gets the impression that these people felt a mixture of pity, respect and admiration all at once. Isaiah Thomas, the legendary point guard of the “Bad Boy” Pistons with whom Rodman felt the closest, tears up at a point when describing the sensitive nature of Rodman, and how he could not accept the fact that the NBA is a business where teams don’t always stay together, retire together, as families.
Even Michael Jordan himself, one of the most sociopathically competitive athletes to ever live, speaks about Rodman in a measured, understanding manner, recognizing the troubled soul lashed out due to a deep-seated anger and abandonment issues. However, none of these platitudes condone the other realities of Rodman’s life the film presents, those in which he abandoned his own children from multiple mothers. Alexis Rodman, his first child, makes the point that she could never understand how her own father could treat her the way she did considering her relationship with her own children. The documentary suggests it all plays into the tragic cycle of abandonment that Rodman himself both experienced as a kid and contributed to as a father.
Despite the legendary career he had and the impact he has had on the league ever since, it is clear that there is a sadness that underpins it all, and one can hope that he and the people around him find peace.