Dennis Rodman never had a conversation with Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen in Chicago

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Sport lends itself to the romantic. That much is true, and it was true long before legendary talents turned sportswriters into scribes of myths, before Robert Redford ever swung a bat, and before the imagination of a daydreaming kid allowed him to fill the gaps in the life of his favorite athlete. We sports fans find allegory or create it. We delve into meaning or fabricate it. We believe that there is something within this field of play, within these lines and these stadiums, that makes the game a deserving vessel of greater purpose.

Sometimes, those romantic inclinations are right on the money. There really are grand tales of triumph and redemption in this sport and all others. There are heroes, in a sense, and there is real emotion that floods from the movement of a bouncing ball. But other times, we’re let down by what is trumpeted as real. The white knights of the NBA are often only so because of the lighting in the room; bright bulbs, after all, can make a legend out of what is only a man. Everything isn’t always perfect, and more importantly, everything isn’t always a nesting doll for some greater, hidden meaning. Sometimes it’s just about basketball. It’s a man with a job that may or may not also be his passion. It’s a victory of self-contained value, rather than the climax of a much larger plot line. Or, in the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, it’s a business venture between colleagues, rather than a story of shared experience, collective ascendence, and fellowship.

Dennis Rodman sat down for an interview on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger,” and discussed his relationships with the stars, the core, and the entire roster of the fabled Chicago Bulls teams he was a part of in the mid-90s:

HESINGER: Your then teammate when you were with the Bulls, Scottie Pippen, was quoted as saying “I’ve never had a conversation with Dennis. I’ve never had a conversation with Dennis in my life, so I don’t think it’s anything new.” Why not speak to your teammates then?

RODMAN: Well, I think it was important for me to go in there and win. I don’t have a job to speak to people. My job is to collate and understand how people work and make people believe in the fact that [I] belong there. Talking to people will come. Relating to people will come. If they see you performing and doing your job and being with the group, that’s all I want. Me and Scottie — we’re cool today. We’re a little older, a little wiser. We’re cool today. And me and Scottie never had a conversation. Me and Scottie and Michael never had a conversation in three years in Chicago. Only time we had a conversation was on the court, and that was it.

Rodman, he of the ever-shifting hair color and endless theatrics, has never been the image of simplicity. Yet here, a meaningful bond is reduced to a workplace arrangement. His job wasn’t to talk to Scottie or Michael, so he didn’t. Their relationship didn’t go beyond the limits of the game, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s no rule that mandates core players to swap Christmas cards, much less share a few words.

But it’s the restraint of Rodman’s relationship with his most notable teammates that sticks out. It’s not that they weren’t friends. They didn’t have a conversation. Rodman was so committed to the limits of his interactions with MJ and Pippen that he didn’t bother to stop by their locker for a chat in three years.

There are teams in which the players form an infrastructure by way of their relationships (the Thunder are perhaps the best contemporary example of a squad defined by something akin to brotherhood, though similar dynamics can be traced through plenty of squads), but  the Bulls were not one of them. Jordan’s aloofness has since been pointed out in several books and many a piece online. Pippen’s complex as a second fiddle has become a part of his lore. And Rodman, always a bit of an oddball, is now the man who wouldn’t speak to those whom he shared the court and three titles with, regardless of their stature on the Bulls or in the NBA.

Collectively, they accomplished things other players and teams could only dream of. Yet the lines that connected one Bulls player to another were not quite as vibrant as immortal photos, television broadcasts, and rosy reflections would lead us to believe. The 90s were not, it seems, an age for the romantics; it was a time of greatness in sport that understood its boundaries, and tremendous talents that reinvigorated the game with piles of wins, big personalities, and in some cases, few words between them.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.