After all but one of the Bulls had showered, dressed and left the Delta Center following their 88-85 overtime loss to the Jazz in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night, a large group of media members anxiously waited for Dennis Rodman to emerge from Chicago's locker room.
It wasn't the first time on this particular night that Rodman left somebody waiting for him while he took refuge in the bowels of the Delta Center.The Worm's flamboyant coif and tattooed body were noticeably absent from the Bulls' starting lineup and from the bench when Game 1 started. Rodman was still nowhere to be found when Chicago coach Phil Jackson called on him to replace Luc Longley after the Bulls center picked up his second foul only eight minutes into the game. That forced Jackson to put bench-warmer Dickey Simpkins on Karl Malone for a few minutes, a move that could have turned ugly for the Bulls.
So where was Rodman?
No, he wasn't en route from Las Vegas, and he wasn't out enjoying the (wink, wink) Salt Lake nightlife, either. He was actually busy pouting - or "warming up," as he calls it.
As he did in the East finals after being removed from the starting lineup, Rod-man was pushing the pedals of a stationary bicycle behind the scenes during the first quarter Wednesday.
Rodman finally jumped off the bike in time to start the second quarter. It's a surprise Jackson didn't quickly send him back to log a few more miles, too.
As soon as he entered the game - sporting a new lime green, black and blue splotchy hair-do and a wrapped-up right thumb because of torn ligaments - the Jazz put together a 10-2 run. Utah's spurt mostly came with the lineup of Bryon Russell and subs Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Chris Morris and Antoine Carr on the floor.
Though playing with the injured thumb, which could be what kept him from starting, Rodman grabbed five rebounds during the second quarter.
Rodman went on to play 40 minutes, though he ended up with just 10 rebounds. That's a good boarding night for most, but it was five fewer than he snagged per game in the regular season and three below his playoff average.
Before the game, Rodman predicted the injury, which came about during Game 7 of the East finals Sunday, would hinder his ability to rebound.
"Absolutely," he said. "I've got to grab the ball with my right hand."
Still, Rodman almost had the most significant defensive play of the game. He scraped a few of his painted fingernails - here's for hoping he didn't break any - on Malone's layup attempt with 2:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. The blocked shot came just after the Bulls reeled off seven straight points, including Scottie Pippen's game-tying 3-pointer. Pippen then had a chance to put Chicago up just after Rodman's block, but his 3-point shot went awry.
Missed opportunities like that one proved fatal to the Bulls, said Rodman, who finally strolled out of the locker room after keeping the reporters in suspense for an extra 15 minutes.
"We know we can beat this team," he said as he mumbled only a few quotes before hopping into a hotel van that shuttled him to the airport for an overnight jaunt to Las Vegas.
"It's just a matter of us hitting the shots we need to, that's all."
Though he had a critical turnover in overtime, Longley was the only Bull to do that other than Pippen and Michael Jordan. He scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter, and he then made an awkward-looking 9-foot jumper to send the game into overtime.
Longley tried to be the hero in the overtime, too, but he fumbled the ball while he made a twisting post move with 28.4 ticks left and the Bulls down by two, 84-82. After Longley lost control of the ball in the lane, Russell dove on it and called timeout. "He took it upon himself, thought he was about 6-5 and tried to go to the hole," Jordan said of his 7-2 center. "And that's a mental mistake that we can improve on."
At least for a change, Rodman wasn't the only one making a cerebral faux pas.