When he entered the NBA in 1986, he was listed as 6'8" (2.03 m), but by the time he joined the Chicago Bulls in 1995, his listed height had dropped to 6'6" (1.98 m), which he acknowledges as his actual height. Rodman played one of the most physical positions in basketball at power forward, and despite giving up as much as a half foot in some matchups, was considered perhaps the top power defender of his generation, and one of the top four defenders of his generation at all positions along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Gary Payton.
Rodman was far from a basketball prospect as a high-schooler in Dallas; he only became a prospect when he grew 11 inches (27 cm) in one year late in his teenage years. After a stint in junior college, he played for Southeastern Oklahoma State, a Division II school. However, the Detroit Pistons took sufficient notice of him to draft him in the second round in 1986. At that time, the Pistons were an up-and-coming team led by Isiah Thomas at point guard, Joe Dumars at shooting guard, and Bill Laimbeer at center. They had notable role players in Adrian Dantley, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley, and Rick Mahorn. Rodman's intensity was a perfect fit for a team known for its rough style of play and tenacious defense. The Pistons were knocked out of the playoffs in 1987 by their nemesis Boston Celtics, although Rodman did a decent job of guarding their star player, Larry Bird.
In 1988 Rodman seemed to show even more star potential, crashing the boards more and defending better than before. In 1989 he was finally recognized for his work by being named Defensive Player of the Year, the first of two straight. He finished second to Laimbeer in rebounding on the team, and helped the Pistons put away the young Chicago Bulls for the second straight year as they won their first NBA championship. The following year was almost identical, with the Pistons beating the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals again, winning their second straight championship, and Rodman again winning Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Pistons also posted a franchise-high 63 wins during the regular season.
In 1991 the Pistons were jolted when they were swept by the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. Rodman led the team in rebounding, but it wasn't enough. Rodman would have to raise his level of play, and he did.
In 1992, Rodman was phenomenal, averaging over 18 rebounds a game as he won the first of seven straight rebounding titles. Rodman didn't overpower or outreach opponents. Instead, he used almost a scientific approach to calculate how the ball would ricochet off the basket to be in prime position to grab it. 1993 was Rodman's second top rebounding season, but his last with the Pistons. In the offseason he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Sean Elliott.
In San Antonio, Rodman continued his glass-cleaning expertise, and allowed center David Robinson to focus more on scoring, as Robinson won the scoring title. It marked the first time that teammates won both the scoring and rebounding title, but wouldn't be the last for Rodman. The following season Rodman helped San Antonio to their best season in franchise history with 62 wins, and they made it to the Western Conference finals. However, his off-court life, including a brief but heavily-publicized relationship with Madonna, proved too much for the Spurs. The last straw was when he failed to arrive with the rest of the team for the critical fifth game of the conference finals.
In the offseason, Rodman was dealt to the Chicago Bulls for center Will Perdue. The Bulls, with Rodman aboard, improved 25 games, from 47 to a NBA record 72 and the NBA championship. They also had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and all three made the all-Defensive first team, the first time three players from the same team made it on the first team. Rodman led the league in rebounding for the fifth straight year, and Jordan won the scoring title, the second time that teammates had led the league in scoring and rebounding. They would repeat in '97 and '98 as the team three-peated for the second time in the decade.
Rodman left Chicago after the season as the Bulls started a massive rebuilding phase. He also finished his last major season, as he would only have brief stints with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers. Rodman was the premier rebounder of the nineties with seven straight titles, and matched up defensively with players ranging from Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird to Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley. His most impressive feat was during the '96 Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic, when the 6'6", 210-pound Rodman shut down the 6'10", 235-pound Horace Grant and helped contain the 7'2", 330-pound O'Neal, key to the Bulls' eventual sweep of the defending Eastern Conference champs.
Rodman was very controversial on court, from his many tattoos and colored hair to his rash behavior, which included baiting other players, kicking a cameraman, and shoving officials, but also off the court, where he famously dated (and briefly married) Carmen Electra, wore a wedding dress to a public appearance to promote his autobiography, and had various run-ins with the law over trivial matters such as noise violations and public intoxication.