Detroit Pistons: 15 players who defined the Bad Boys era

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images /
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Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images /

64. . Small forward. 1986-93. Dennis Rodman. 3. player

Before Dennis Rodman was America’s unofficial ambassador to North Korea, and before he was dressing up and acting out on the Chicago Bulls, and before he had the various hair colors, Rodman was simply a young man learning how to apply his prodigious physical talents to the game of basketball.

The Pistons drafted Rodman in 1986 as a relatively raw talent, but over the next few seasons, he quickly became one of the most versatile defenders the league had ever seen. At 6-foot-7, Rodman could bang with power forwards or slide up and guard wing players. His springboard athleticism and quick instincts allowed him to leap into passing lanes and generate turnovers in spurts.

Rodman’s motor was always running, as illustrated on one play against Charles Barkley and the Philadelphia 76ers. A rebound came towards Rodman and Barkley, and Rodman tipped it no less than six times to keep it away from Barkley.

After securing it, Rodman tries to go up for a shot only to have it stripped. Barkley gets the ball and pushes up the court to score a fast break layup, only for Rodman to have recovered and come from behind to swat it away.

As the team grew into title winners, Rodman was moved into the starting lineup, and he flourished in that context. The Pistons won 25 of the next 26 games they played after the change, and Rodman won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award at the end of that season.

By the end of his career, Rodman was a two-time All-NBA player, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, six-time rebounding leader and five-time NBA champion. He played in every single game for five straight seasons for the Pistons, and was a nasty player simply in how great he was on defense.

That is not to say everything was good, as Rodman started a number of controversies over the course of his career. Perhaps the most well-known took place after the Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics in 1987, when Rodman made a comment about Larry Bird being so beloved because he was white. Isiah Thomas backed up his teammate, and a media firestorm was begun.

Rodman has said outlandish things before, and he will surely do so again. But his on-court play shows itself in success, and Rodman was wildly successful for a number of seasons.

The Bad Boy Pistons were built on their big men, but a versatile forward such as Rodman was a key to their ultimate success. He is one of the very best defenders to ever play the game.