MIAMI -- The ricochet was out of control, spinning wildly an way off target, like a poorly taken jump shot. Except this sphere wasn't a basketball, this was Dennis Rodman's world, and he actually had trouble with the rebound.
When summer became fall in 1992, the mood of the Detroit Pistons forward did not change with the seasons. The fragments of his life were blowing everywhere, and Rodman frantically tried catch the precious pieces before they fell to the ground.
His marriage dissolved, and his estranged wife took their daughter to Sacramento, Calif. After spending nine years as the Pistons crisis counselor, Chuck Daly bolted east to psychoanalyze the malcontents in New Jersey. Next, John Salley, the brother that Rodman never had, snow-birded to Miami. That's when Rodman became something besides a rebounding machine, the only man in the NBA capable of dominating a game without scoring a point, another pro athlete earning millions and living a recession-proof life.
"It was like everything you worked for was gone at once, like somebody said, 'OK, load it all into the wagon and take it away,' " Rodman said. "You come home and say, 'Where did my life go?' I was all screwed up, twisted, turned around. . . . I was trying to find something to stand up on, to hold against, and I couldn't."
Today, things are as close to normal as they will ever be. Rodman, 6 feet 9, who last season became the shortest player to lead the NBA in rebounds, has grabbed at least 20 boards in 13 FTC of 18 games since his return, and the Pistons, after a 2-9 start, have won 13 of 16.
"It's no secret what turned that team around," Daly said. "The Pistons have always won by rebounding and defense, and who does that better than Dennis?"
The Pistons once seriously considered trading Rodman to Miami or another team, but as Salley says now, "He made himself a fixture in Detroit."
Rodman's rediscovered inspiration comes from his 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, and he dedicates every day to her.
"It took me awhile, but now I realize the importance of my child," Rodman said. "That's what really has gotten me out of this funk. I was lost in a fog, and I had to get back."
A few months ago, basketball had become trivial. Rodman phoned a reporter at one of the Detroit papers, out of the blue, and told him to start writing his basketball obit. He changed his home phone number and wouldn't give it to the Pistons. He reported to training camp 24 days late -- he brought his sneakers but left his game at home.
He did surface when the Pistons played Daly and the Nets in the preseason. Rodman sat behind the Pistons bench, but at halftime, he went to the visitors' locker room and spoke with Daly. The two are tight.
Rodman used to show up at Daly's door every Christmas with gifts -- the only Pistons player with such yuletide spirit. Rodman doesn't have anything personal against Ron Rothstein. But he says Daly's successor "was in the wrong place at the wrong time" when Rothstein served as the team's color commentator last season in a move clearly designed to make his transition to the bench smooth.
"Chuck played father, grandfather -- he's old enough -- and counselor to Dennis," Salley said. "When Chuck left, it was tougher for Dennis than anyone will ever know."