Dennis Rodman’s main nickname was The Worm, which was given to him by his Mom when he was a kid. Rodman was also called Dennis the Menace because of his energy on the basketball court, Demolition Man because he patterned his style after a character from that movie and Rodzilla when he became a professional wrestler.
Why was Dennis Rodman called the Worm?
Dennis Rodman actually got the nickname the Worm from his mother. It came from the way he wiggled all around playing pinball when he was a kid. Rodman was actually not much of an athlete in those days.
The Worm stood only 5’6” as a freshman in high school in Texas where he grew up. His sisters were the athletes in the family – both played college basketball. Dennis did not even play in high school.
Rodman started working at the airport after high school where he encountered the first of several interactions with the American court system. He got in some trouble for stealing watches from an airport store by slipping his hand through a gate.
It was around this time that Dennis’ life changed drastically. He grew a remarkable 8 inches at the age of 20 going from 5’11” to 6’7”. He would later grow a further inch to 6’8”.
Rodman began playing more and more pickup basketball at a rec center at this time and he got noticed. He was invited to play for a junior college where he dominated and ended up playing for NAIA school SE Oklahoma State.
The Worm became a 3 time All-American at SE Oklahoma State. Maybe the most remarkable feature of his game at that time was the scoring: he was more than a rebounding and defensive wizard. He averaged nearly 26 points per game in his time there.
Rodman declared for the 1986 draft and started to get noticed pretty widely. He won the MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational pre-draft camp. Then Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said of Rodman at this point:
“It’s incredible. Rodman is such a raw talent. He can play with anyone in the country. He showed that tonight.”
Why was Dennis Rodman called Dennis the Menace?
Dennis Rodman was called Dennis the Menace because of his style of play in the NBA – he was a terror both on defense and chasing rebounds. Rodman’s increasing off-court incidents also contributed to the use of the name among headline writers. Dennis the Menace was a longstanding well-known comic strip that became a feature film around the end of Rodman’s run with the Pistons.
Rodman was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 27th overall pick in the 1986 draft – the 3rd pick of the second round.
That Pistons squad was known as the Bad Boys with Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Mark Aguirre, John Salley and, yes, Dennis Rodman leading them to two NBA titles.
Rodman started his career with the Pistons as a backup. Rodman was good on D and a good rebounder right away. He was becoming something of a pest. In his second year, the Pistons won the NBA title and he made his first All-NBA Defensive Team as a non-starter playing 27 minutes a game.
The Pistons lost Rick Mahorn after this season and many observers thought they may have lost their edge with him. But The Worm became more of a menace than ever before while moving from a backup role to starting for the Bad Boys.
Rodman won his first Defensive Player of the Year and the Pistons captured another title. The Menace won a second DPOY the following year but the team got swept by the Bulls in the playoffs.
Things continued downhill for the team from there with Rodman’s mentor Chuck Daly being forced out but not before Rodman would average 19 rebounds a game for the team in the 91-92 season.
After a year missing the playoffs Rodman was facing a personal crisis where he contemplated suicide. It was at that time Rodman says he promised himself to be true to himself and not to be who people wanted him to be.
This seems like a good time to stop and make clear that, while I am writing a mostly lighthearted look at Dennis Rodman’s nicknames, I am in no way downplaying the mental health issues he faced.
Rodman seems to have had a difficult life with a fair amount of trauma and mental health issues. My heart goes out to him. I hope he is finding peace as he ages.
Rodmand demanded a trade and was sent to the San Antonio Spurs.
Why was Dennis Rodman called Demolition Man?
After being traded to the Spurs, Rodman took his place in an unlikely pairing beside The Admiral David Robinson. This was well before Robinson paired up with The Big Fundamental in a pairing that makes more obvious sense.
Robinson and Rodman both played defense like Duncan, but, boy, their personal styles at this point could not have been any more mismatched.
Robinson was a military man. It was during his stretch with the Spurs that Rodman became the Demolition Man. Living out the promise he made to himself when leaving Detroit, Rodman did what he wanted.
After seeing the Wesley Snipes film Demolition Man, Rodman began to dye his hair like Snipes’ character. His demolition was not limited to hair styles.
Rodman headbutted multiple players in his first year with the Spurs. Can’t imagine Robinson loved that. The Worm publicly dated Madonna and started drawing attention in gossip pages and drawing interest from people who were not all that interested in sports.
The Demolition Man really went to work in his second year in San Antonio. He was suspended by the team then took a leave of absence.
Rodman then got a suspension during the playoffs for insubordination and absolutely went off on the team’s coach in the media after losing their series to Hakeem Olajuwan’s Rockets.
The match in San Antonio was never right and it ended after that Rockets series with Rodman somehow being traded to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Why was Dennis Rodman called Rodzilla?
Dennis Rodman became Rodzilla at the end of his incredibly successful Bulls years when he began wrestling for the WCW.
Based on his San Antonio years, if you guessed the Bulls would have taken him, you were making a bold prediction. But, after losing Horace Grant, the Bulls had a clear need for rebounding and defense. Almost no one did that better than Rodman at that point.
The Bulls took a chance on him and somehow it worked. Of his relationship with the driven Jordan, Rodman said:
“On the court, me and Michael are pretty calm and we can handle conversation. But as far as our lives go, I think he is moving in one direction and I’m going in the other. I mean, he’s goin’ north, I’m goin’ south.”
The Demolition Man of San Antonio hardly disappeared in Chicago. Rodman was suspended 11 games for kicking a cameraman. But, somehow, they were able to make it work.
The Bulls looked the other way a lot and had some seriously strong leadership both on the court in Jordan and Pippen and in the form of Phil Jackson as coach.
The Bulls won three more titles with Rodman leading the way on the glass and on defense. It was during one of those title runs against the Jazz that Rodzilla was born.
Rodman actually missed a media appearance during the NBA Finals to fly to Detroit in order to hype up his first wrestling appearance against none other than Karl Malone who starred for the Bulls’ finals opponents: the Utah Jazz.
Rodzilla wrestled Karl Malone that summer in a tag team match that also featured Hulk Hogan. That is a sentence I never guessed I would type. Dennis Rodman’s wrestling career would last from ‘97-’99 and is where he got the name Rodzilla.
Summary: Dennis Rodman’s Nicknames
Dennis Rodman got The Worm nickname from his Mom because he was so wiggly playing pinball growing up. Rodman became Dennis the Menace and Demolition Man in the press during his career because of his basketball style and his wild approach to life. Rodman nicknamed himself Rodzilla when he embarked on a professional wrestling career.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.