Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

This excerpt from Cowl Story by Alex Wong is reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. For extra info and to order a duplicate, please go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, or

Dennis Rodman, San Antonio Spurs

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The one four-day, three-state reporting journey in Sports activities Illustrated historical past to incorporate an impromptu last-minute journey to Las Vegas and a macaw parrot began on a Thursday evening inside a preferred hangout within the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, referred to as Sanctuary. A number of hours earlier, the San Antonio Spurs eradicated the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs in Sport 6 of the 1995 Western Convention semifinals. Spurs ahead Dennis Rodman noticed Sports activities Illustrated author Michael Silver as he walked off the court docket.

“Come on, bro,” he stated. “Let’s fucking go.” After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1988, Silver joined Newsday as a summer time intern. He coated the San Francisco 49ers at The Sacramento Union earlier than becoming a member of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “I used to be rising disenchanted with the older and extra established writers,” Silver stated. “I self-promoted so much and wasn’t refined about it. I used to be all the time attempting to push for larger and higher issues for myself. They weren’t vibing with me. I used to be reassessing whether or not I wished to remain within the enterprise once I received the miracle name from Sports activities Illustrated in 1994.”

A 12 months later, the journal wanted somebody who may sustain with the 34-year-old energy ahead with red-and-orange hair who dated Madonna, listened to Pearl Jam, wore Oakley sun shades and plaid flannel pants to video games, began the season serving a three-game suspension after throwing a bag of ice at his head coach’s face, and cherished to occasion.

Their professional soccer author appeared like the precise alternative. Silver repeatedly frolicked with soccer gamers and coaches till the solar got here up. “I’d exit with guys till three within the morning,” he defined. “I wouldn’t get a single tangible factor for my story, however three years later, I’d have the ability to stroll right into a locker room and discuss to them after an vital sport.”

A 12-passenger limo whisked a gaggle together with Rodman and Silver from the Nice Western Discussion board to Beverly Hills. Silver watched celebrities inside Sanctuary line as much as greet Rodman. He was the focus. A Hollywood agent pitched Rodman the concept of changing into a film villain in an upcoming Quentin Tarantino-directed image. It was 4 within the morning when Silver discovered himself standing outdoors the membership listening to the Spurs ahead clarify his breakup with Madonna to the bouncer.

“I assumed I may occasion with this man, however I had no thought what I used to be in for,” Silver stated. “I used to be making use of my ‘I’m in my 20s, I’m from Northern California, I drink a bunch of beers with the dudes’ requirements. We received to the membership and we’re instantly on the Goldschlager and Jagermeister.”

Essentially the most memorable reporting journey of Silver’s profession was simply getting began as he raced towards the airport a couple of hours later to catch a flight to San Antonio.

Rodman was an introvert rising up within the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, along with his sisters, Debra and Kim, each All-American faculty basketball gamers. His father, Philander, left the household and relocated to the Philippines when he was three. Rodman developed a rebellious streak. He drifted throughout a number of jobs earlier than working as a janitor on the Dallas/Fort Price Airport after quitting highschool basketball. Rodman stole 15 watches one night from the airport reward store and was jailed for an evening. His mom, Shirley, kicked him out of the home.

Rodman performed on the Cooke County School basketball workforce in Gainesville, Texas, for a semester earlier than leaving as a result of poor grades. He blossomed into the nation’s finest rebounder at Southeastern Oklahoma State, averaging 24.4 factors and 17.8 rebounds as a senior. Rodman was chosen by the Detroit Pistons within the second spherical in 1986 and have become a crucial a part of two championship groups along with his rebounding and defensive presence.

One night in February of 1993, Rodman dropped off what gave the impression to be a suicide observe to an in depth good friend earlier than leaving for a late-night exercise. The cops discovered him asleep in his pickup truck with a loaded rifle later that evening. His private {and professional} life was a large number. Rodman was heartbroken after shedding custody of his daughter Alexis in a divorce settlement along with his ex-wife Annie. He was additionally upset at his workforce for parting methods with head coach Chuck Daly, a private good friend and father determine. Family and friends members had been involved for Rodman’s psychological well-being after the incident. The Pistons ahead assured everybody he was tremendous. He wasn’t considering suicide however was symbolically killing his previous public persona to indicate the world who he really was.

The Spurs traded for Rodman a number of months later earlier than the beginning of the next season. He determined it was time for a brand new look. Rodman confirmed as much as his first public look along with his new workforce with a brand-new blonde hairdo impressed by Wesley Snipes’ blonde-haired character Simon Phoenix from the 1993 science fiction motion movie Demolition Man. He obtained a standing ovation from the followers.

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

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Silver arrived in San Antonio for day two of his reporting journey nursing a hangover. Rodman, in the meantime, was on the apply facility going by way of rebounding drills as if the earlier evening didn’t occur. The 2 would find yourself in Las Vegas by the top of the evening, due to Dwight Manley.

A famend coin collector from Orange County, California, Manley was in Las Vegas for a bachelor occasion in the summertime of 1993 when he first met Rodman at a craps desk. Within the months main as much as his commerce to the Spurs, Rodman had put up a “For Sale” signal at his Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, house and stayed at The Mirage in Las Vegas for the whole summer time, blowing by way of $35,000 taking part in craps.

“I invited him to a George Carlin present,” Manley recalled. “The following day, we frolicked and employed some entertainers for the bachelor occasion. It was time. We swapped numbers earlier than saying our goodbyes.”

The 2 rapidly grew to become shut associates, visiting one another throughout the season, and infrequently returning to Las Vegas collectively. The Spurs had a couple of days off earlier than the Western Convention Finals, so Manley requested Rodman if he wished to occasion. The reply, as all the time, was a powerful sure. Hours after touchdown in San Antonio for his second day of reporting, Silver was working by way of the airport attempting to make a flight to Las Vegas. The group landed at ten within the night and instantly headed to the craps desk, calling it an evening simply earlier than dawn.

Manley’s lodge cellphone rang at 5 within the morning. It was Spurs head coach Bob Hill.

He wished Rodman again in San Antonio within the afternoon for a Saturday movie session.

Hill’s relationship with Rodman received off to a rocky begin within the preseason after he changed John Lucas as head coach. He suspended Rodman for 3 video games after he arrived late to apply, skipped a number of workforce conferences, and threw a bag of ice in his path throughout a preseason sport.

The feud continued all through the season and into the playoffs.

After Rodman was benched within the second half of a Sport 3 loss within the second spherical in opposition to the Lakers, he refused to affix his teammates within the huddle, sitting by himself with a towel over his head close to the bench. Hill despatched his beginning energy ahead to the locker room for the rest of the sport and didn’t play him in Sport 4. “I’m getting punished for some silly purpose,” Rodman stated. “It didn’t damage me in any respect. I can play or not play.” Hill responded: “I’d all the time hear very carefully to Dennis, after which, most likely, no matter he says, the other is true.” The confrontation continued when Hill stated he hoped Rodman had realized his lesson. “Discovered my lesson?” Rodman informed the media. “I’m 34 years previous. I’m a grown man. I do know what I’m doing. So, no, I haven’t realized my lesson.” Hill managed to get within the final phrase, saying, “It’s all a part of our existence right here. Dennis is simply taking part in a little bit sport there. He’s attempting to maintain himself able of energy. That’s what he’s about.”

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

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Vince Bucci/AFP through Getty Photographs

Rodman didn’t need to return to San Antonio however widespread sense prevailed after some pleading by Manley and teammate Jack Haley and a flight house was booked for midday. Silver was nonetheless ready for a sit-down interview with Rodman because the third day of his reporting journey began.

Mike got here as much as me and stated, ‘What do I do?’” Manley recalled. “I stated, ‘Go together with Dennis, and also you sit with him on the way in which again as a result of I’m going again to California.’ He informed me the subsequent day it was the very best recommendation ever.”

Throughout a one-hour layover in Houston, Silver and Rodman watched Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets beat Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns in Sport 7 of their second-round collection. The Sports activities Illustrated author lastly landed his interview after they sat collectively on the connecting flight again house.

Silver received Rodman to open up about all the pieces, together with his suicidal ideas (“Generally I dream about simply taking a gun and blowing my head off .”), homicide fantasies (“Yeah, I’d kill any individual… in my thoughts. Rapidly I lose management of what I’m doing. I’m in a torture chamber, and I’ve received to combat my manner out. I undoubtedly come out with a vengeance.”), movie star standing (“They cover behind their cash, fame, and success. Then swiftly they haven’t any opinion, or they’re afraid to voice it as a result of they’re afraid somebody will take away what they’ve received.”), his sexuality (“I visualize being with one other man. All people visualizes being homosexual. They suppose, ‘Ought to I do it or not?’ The explanation they will’t is as a result of they suppose it’s unethical. They suppose it’s a sin. Hell, you’re not dangerous if you happen to’re homosexual, and it doesn’t make you any much less of an individual.”) and Madonna (“She wished to get married. She wished to have my child. She stated, ‘Be in a lodge room in Las Vegas on this particular day so you will get me pregnant.’ She had methods of creating you are feeling such as you’re King Tut, however she additionally wished to cuddle and be held.”).

Rodman landed in San Antonio and joined his workforce for a movie session and dinner afterward. He met up with Silver within the night to indicate the Sports activities Illustrated author certainly one of his favourite native homosexual bars earlier than they each retreated to Rodman’s place. After spending the evening writing within the visitor room, Silver filed his story to his Sports activities Illustrated editor simply earlier than his Sunday morning deadline.

Silver awoke the next day, walked downstairs previous 15 unique birds, two German shepherds, and located photographer John McDonough establishing in Rodman’s kitchen.

McDonough graduated from Arizona State College with a photojournalism diploma and labored for SPORT, The Los Angeles Occasions, and the Arizona Republic earlier than becoming a member of Sports activities Illustrated as a photographer in 1982. He met Rodman two years earlier for the primary time at a photoshoot in San Antonio.

“Dennis didn’t have a lot cash then,” he recalled. “Right here I’m, a photographer, and right here he’s, a multi-millionaire, and I used to be shopping for him meals. We ended up hanging out for a couple of days. I bear in mind telling him, ‘I’m not going to take a seat round and choose no matter points or issues you’ve. I simply need to know who you might be.’ That’s how our friendship began.”

McDonough had requested the Spurs ahead for concepts a couple of days earlier than the photoshoot. “Dennis informed me, ‘We’re not taking an image of me in my uniform once more,’” he recalled. “So now I’m driving in my rental automotive to his place, and I’ve received completely no thought what I used to be going to do.”

Rodman lastly got here downstairs to greet McDonough and requested if he may very well be photographed bare on the Sports activities Illustrated cowl.

“We ended up making a couple of calls to the editors and had been informed it wasn’t going to work,” McDonough stated. “Dennis was a little bit upset. I’m wanting on the skylight coming by way of the entrance entryway, and it began to go. I’m beginning to fear as a result of there wasn’t time to arrange any lights. Dennis comes again to us and says, ‘Okay, how about I put on scorching pants and a tank high?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s tremendous, that’s nice.’”

McDonough sat Rodman in a chair and positioned certainly one of his macaw parrots on his arm for dramatic impact.

“The hen was getting fussy and began to chew him,” he recalled. “I used to be capturing as many photographs as I may.”

Rodman went upstairs for a wardrobe change and got here again carrying a pair of denims with a rip within the crotch, exposing his privates.

“I used to be simply laughing at this level,” McDonough stated. “I couldn’t consider what was taking place. It was a anxious day, however I managed to tug a rabbit out of my hat.”

The second a part of the photoshoot happened on a purple leather-based zebra pores and skin sofa the place the Spurs ahead sprawled out able the place McDonough may shoot the images with out exposing his topic’s crotch.

Silver watched the whole three-hour photoshoot unfold whereas going forwards and backwards along with his editors preventing to maintain each element of his cowl story in print. He was not satisfied the function would run.

“To my understanding, it was batted round so much,” Silver stated. “It could have been a tricky resolution. It was 1995, it was Sports activities Illustrated, and we had an previous, white readership. The photographs themselves had been risqué by their requirements.”

To his shock, a photograph of Rodman carrying a shiny tank high, metallic scorching pants, and a rhinestone canine collar, whereas seated in a leopard-print patterned chair with a parrot in his arm appeared on the duvet of the Could 29, 1995, concern of Sports activities Illustrated. The duvet line learn RARE BIRD in purple and yellow, matching the parrot and Rodman’s hair dye.

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

Sports activities Illustrated/John McDonough

It grew to become certainly one of Sports activities Illustrated’s best-selling Could points ever. Shortly after the duvet hit newsstands, the Spurs misplaced in six video games to the Rockets within the Western Convention Finals. San Antonio weighed the professionals and cons of getting Rodman on their roster shifting ahead and finally traded him to the Chicago Bulls in trade for middle Will Perdue within the offseason.

The Sports activities Illustrated cowl story elevated Rodman to a unique form of movie star standing. He partied with Hollywood A-listers together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Rock, and Courtney Love. Rodman modeled a G-string for supermodel Cindy Crawford on MTV and starred within the action-comedy movie Double Crew with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Manley grew to become Rodman’s agent and used the Sports activities Illustrated cowl story’s reputation to land him a e book deal. Silver was Manley’s first alternative to jot down the e book, however he couldn’t persuade his Sports activities Illustrated editors to offer him time without work. Manley and Rodman narrowed their record all the way down to Jeremy Schapp and Tim Keown, who ended up writing the e book. ‘Unhealthy As I Wanna Be’ was a 1996 New York Occasions best-seller. Rodman orchestrated a e book signing stunt by exhibiting up at a Barnes & Noble in New York carrying a marriage gown a day after telling late-night talk-show host David Letterman he was getting married.

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

AP Photograph/Mark Lennihan

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Silver—who ended up writing Rodman’s follow-up e book Stroll on the Wild Aspect a 12 months later—noticed one other aspect of Rodman past the controversial stunts in public.

He noticed somebody who overtly questioned masculine stereotypes in sports activities, spoke in regards to the risks of drug use, wore t-shirts supporting same-sex marriage to the sector throughout a time when homophobia was widespread amongst athletes and society at giant and coloured an AIDS consciousness ribbon into the again of his head for a nationally televised playoff sport.

“He had this big groundswell of assist by a wave of people that felt marginalized and misunderstood,” Silver stated. “They felt like that they had been forged within the freak bin too. I noticed folks react to him. They tore their hearts out and thanked him. He was their guiding mild.”

The Sports activities Illustrated cowl embodied the qualities of an ideal journal cowl. The journal picked the precise author and photographer to seize their cowl topic’s essence and profiled their cowl topic at an excellent time in his profession. Even Phil Taylor, the journal’s lead basketball author on the time, admits Silver was the precise alternative to jot down probably the most talked-about basketball profile of the 12 months.

“After I learn Silver’s story, I used to be jealous to a level,” Taylor stated. “However I additionally realized it most likely wouldn’t have gone that manner for me if I frolicked with Dennis. I used to be a bit extra buttoned-up and never as flamboyant. I get the sensation Dennis would have dropped me off on the lodge after the primary evening and stated goodbye.”

A 12 months after Rodman’s controversial Sports activities Illustrated cowl, Taylor pitched his personal function thought on the ability ahead making an impression in his first 12 months with the Bulls. “Everybody had written about his eccentricity,” Taylor defined. “I informed my editors, ‘How about only a actual onerous basketball story about him?’ His rebounding simply stood out. It appeared to me generally like he had this sixth sense of the place the ball was going.”

Earlier than a sport in opposition to the Miami Warmth, Taylor discovered Rodman sitting by himself within the locker room. As Taylor walked over, Rodman began breaking down movie from the earlier evening’s sport in opposition to the Atlanta Hawks. “It was attention-grabbing as a result of each time I talked to Dennis, he was a unique individual,” Taylor stated. “No two interviews had been in any respect alike. It was constant in that if I attempted to speak to him about on-the-court stuff, he would get all bizarre on me. However once I tried to speak to him in regards to the issues he was doing off the court docket, he would invariably shift into speaking about setting screens and the X’s and O’s of basketball. He was simply so into what he was doing this time it was virtually like he didn’t understand he was being interviewed.”

Rodman took the distant and gave Taylor a step-by-step walkthrough of his course of, fast-forwarding to discover a possession throughout the Hawks sport the place Scottie Pippen shot a three-pointer from the highest of the arc. He stopped the tape and pointed to the opposite gamers on the court docket, preventing within the low put up for rebounding place. When he pressed play once more, Taylor watched as Rodman slid previous everybody to the precise aspect of the basket, completely anticipating the carom off the rim for an offensive rebound. He fast-forwarded to a different Pippen miss from the identical spot after which a later miss from Michael Jordan, additionally on the high of the important thing.

“Anytime I see Scottie or Michael shoot from the highest of the important thing,” Rodman defined to Taylor, “I do know the ball will come off the rim to the precise.”

On each possession he confirmed Taylor, Rodman was the one individual on the court docket who knew exactly the place the ball was going. He had spent hours within the gymnasium rebounding for Pippen and Jordan to review the trajectory of their jumpers from each spot on the court docket. Taylor was blown away by the meticulousness with which Rodman approached his rebounding. “I undoubtedly got here away with a higher appreciation for what he did,” he stated.

On the duvet of the March 4, 1996, concern of Sports activities Illustrated was a photograph of Rodman hovering to grab a rebound away from an opposing defender with the duvet line: THE BEST REBOUNDER EVER? DENNIS RODMAN REVEALS THE SECRETS OF HIS INSIDE GAME.

Cover Story: The NBA and modern basketball as told through its most iconic magazine covers

Richard Mackson/Sports activities Illustrated

Whereas each cowl story tried to duplicate Silver’s blueprint, Taylor managed to discover a special approach to share with a nationwide viewers. In the meantime, different magazines like Rolling Stone—who depicted Rodman because the satan on the duvet, photoshopping the red-haired energy ahead along with his tongue protruding with a pair of satan horns—and GQ—who requested Rodman to pose bare subsequent to scantily clad mannequin Rebecca Romijn on the duvet—tried to recreate the magic of the Sports activities Illustrated cowl and fell effectively brief. The second had handed.

Sports activities Illustrated additionally tried to recreate the magic in 1999, after they requested Silver to jot down a function on Derek Jeter. The 25-year-old New York Yankees shortstop had a latest high-profile fling with singer Mariah Carey and was identified for his love of town’s nightlife as probably the most eligible bachelors within the Massive Apple. It had the makings of one other memorable cowl story.

However Jeter had been skilled to painting a a lot completely different picture to Sports activities Illustrated.

“We had been in his condo, and he’s telling me how he’s a homebody,” Silver stated. “In the meantime, there’s one chair, a tv, a mattress, and a fridge with nothing in it. I spent days with him, and he didn’t take me partying.”

He referred to as Sports activities Illustrated baseball author Tom Verducci.

“I requested him, ‘If I write a narrative about how Derek Jeter simply likes to relax on the crib, am I going to be the most important fool on the planet?’” Silver recalled. “Tom stated, ‘Completely. You can’t do this.’”

A photograph of Jeter working mid-stride to catch a fly ball at Yankees Stadium appeared on the duvet of Sports activities Illustrated’s June 21, 1999, concern. The duvet line stated GOOD FIELD. GOOD HIT. GOOD GUY. WHY DEREK JETER IS SO EASY TO ROOT FOR.

Silver’s story explored the Yankees shortstop’s relationship with town of New York. Essentially the most controversial a part of the function was an interplay between Jeter and a Circuit Metropolis worker, who heckled Jeter as he was purchasing for a videocassette recorder within the retailer.

Silver nonetheless remembers a second he shared with Rodman on their connecting flight house from Houston to San Antonio after a Friday night in Las Vegas.

“Dennis requested me what my subsequent story was going to be once we landed,” he recalled. “I informed him, ‘Imagine it or not, it’s this NASCAR factor.’ He stated, ‘Aw bro, that’s going to be so fucking boring. It’s by no means going to get higher than me. You’re by no means going to get somebody who is that this bizarre, this good, this open, and this humorous. So get pleasure from this.’”

He was proper.

Silver by no means discovered one other cowl topic like him once more.

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