Curious that some people don’t actually remember Dennis Rodman. How high-profile can you get? OK, Michael Jordan is at the top of the NBA tree, with a host of others (Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc, etc) almost up there with him.
But Rodman – Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate for five years – is arguably next on the list. He is probably the most visible, perhaps the most risible – he wrote the book on body decorations and partying – but undoubtedly totally unforgettable. So when he makes an appearance in Japan in August, you can be guaranteed he’ll attract a lot of fans who do remember him and, it goes without saying, a truckload of publicity.
Rodman is coming to Japan to appear in STREET 2ELITE, a street basketball contest at Ariake Colosseum on Aug 19 (there's also a game in Osaka on Aug 17) that will pit the best of Japan against the pick of the USA. He will be accompanied by another former NBA player, Tracy Murray, a three-point specialist who once scored 50 points for the Washington Wizards against the Golden State Warriors. The Japan team was decided in a championship game on July 3.
For the STREET 2ELITE games, the basketball will be 5-on-5 on a full court with two baskets. Scoring will be as per regular basketball games (2 points, 3 points, 1-point free throws). As with most events of this kind, the action will be accompanied by plenty of music with an MC and DJ, and there will be a halftime show. Rodman and Murray will both be playing for the U.S. team – along with a bunch of other American players – and Rodman will select the MVP from the Japanese side.
A spokesman for organizers Sports Biz says it’s a whole new ball game for Japan. “There have been similar tours of countries in Europe, but as far as I am aware, the mixing of former NBA players and street basketball players is a new format for an event in Japan.” The spokesman says the Japan players are sourced from the many events around the country and that street basketball is becoming popular in Japan, in part because of the dazzling dribbling and dunks, but also because of the music and other activities that are mixed with the sport.
“The entertainment, music and fashion aspects are really important,” the spokesman says. “These events are more than just sports events. The audiences come not only to enjoy the spectacular performances of the athletes, but also to enjoy an atmosphere that is in tune with their lifestyle and which they are more used to. It’s been big in the U.S. for some time, but now it’s growing in Japan. Almost everyone in Japan has played basketball because it’s part of the educational program in elementary school, so we are very familiar with the sport, and the pro basketball league has been growing year by year.”
Like the NFL, NHL and major leagues, the NBA has also played regular-season games in Japan, and the likes of local stars Yuta Tabuse and Kei Igarashi have helped boost the game here. The basketball boom all started, according to the Sports Biz spokesman, with the legendary Chicago Bulls team of the late 1990s, of which Rodman was a member.
"In Japan, Rodman is one of the most famous NBA players of all time," the spokesman points out, "mainly because he played for the Chicago Bulls during their golden era with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when they did the three-peat. His book, 'Bad As I Wanna Be,'was a big seller in Japan."
In addition, Rodman is said to have been the model of Hanamichi Sakuragi, the main character in the popular comic "SLAM DUNK."
That fits Rodman perfectly. While always being a supreme athlete on the court, he was little more than a comic character off-court. He was a five-time NBA champion (twice with the Detroit Pistons, three times with the Bulls) and led the league in rebounds for seven straight years (1992-98).
Rodman’s personal life has been one of extreme individuality (tattoos, piercings, freaky hair styles); along the way, he dated Madonna and married Carmen Electra, so he ain’t stupid. But despite dalliances as an actor, DJ and pro wrestler, he’s still a basketball man at heart, and the more flamboyant style of street basketball should suit him perfectly.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today