For years, the Detroit Pistons of the 80's and early 90's were defined by the bruising and chippy play of Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, and Isiah Thomas. For the better part of the team's drive toward NBA supremacy, Dennis Rodman played a supporting role, capable if he were to find himself in the midst of a dust-up but primarily known for his high energy and swarming defense.
By 1991, Rodman was still known for his high energy and swarming defense. Only now, his peripheral antics, particularly in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls, came close to eclipsing those of the rest of his teammates combined. Sly elbows, taunts, and deliberate shoves after the whistle were all a part of Rodman's playbook during his team's four-game sweep at the hands of the Bulls.
Rodman's Game 4 shove of the Pippen from behind drew the stiffest repercussions from the league, resulting in a $5,000 fine (yes, $5,000). On the play in question, Pippen sustained a cut to the chin that resulted in six stitches, though upon closer look, it appears the injury may have been the result of a Bill Laimbeer elbow.
Later in the contest, NBC sideline reporter (and host of Inside Stuff), shared this insight on Scottie Pippen's relationship with Rodman.
"Scottie Pippen told us before the game that he thinks Dennis Rodman is one of the cheap shot artists of the game," Rashad relayed. "He tries to do some cheap stuff then pats you on the behind and says, 'C'mon, let's play ball' but it's all in the guise of being cheap tactics."
Two days following the incident, a letter was sent to Pippen on Rodman's behalf, apologizing for his transgression. Pippen didn't quite buy it.
'"I'm not convinced he wrote it,'' Pippen said. ''If he did, it`s a confession, but I don`t believe it`s going to make up for the scar I might have on my chin.''
Here's Rodman's letter, in full:
May 29, 1991
Mr. Scottie Pippen
Chicago Bulls Basketball Team
980 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Ill. 60611
I am writing this letter to apologize to you for the incident that happened in Monday`s game. You are a great player and I`m glad you weren`t hurt by the incident. It was merely one of frustration.
I am not the type of player of which I have been accused. The situation was one of those things which should not have happened. I am ready and willing to accept any fines or consequences set by the league for my actions.
I sincerely apologize to you, your teammates and the entire Chicago Bulls organization. I also hope that there are no hard feelings between you, your teammates and me.
Good luck in the NBA Finals-it`s a tough road ahead of you.
Five years later, Rodman joined Pippen and Jordan in Chicago. In 2018, Rodman recounted how, prior to coming aboard, head coach Phil Jackson insisted that Dennis first apologize to Pippen:
"We’re at Jerry Krause’s house and we’re having dinner and stuff like that. And we basically didn’t talk to each other at all. It was like ‘The Triangle.’ Michael sat here, Scottie sat here, I sat over here, and Phil’s right in the middle. So we’re at the house and nobody’s talking to each other. So Phil comes over to me and says, ‘Hey, Dennis, can you do me a favor?’ I say, ‘What is that?’ He says, ‘Can you go over there and say you’re sorry to Scottie?’ I was, like, ‘What? Say what? I’m sorry to Scottie?’ Phil said, ‘You know, just go over there and soften him up a little bit, you know because of what happened in ’91. You pushed him in the stands.’ I said, ‘You fucking gotta be kidding me, right? This is a fucking game.’ He said, ‘Just do it for me.’ So I go up to Scottie and I say, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry about what happened.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, man. We just want to win.’ And that’s how the deal got done.”