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Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Updated: February 27, 5:45 PM ET
Dealing with pesky Birds and Worms

By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist

Dennis Rodman's across the floor. I'm heading his way with a bone to pick. It's Baron Davis' Reebok party -- in a huge sound stage on the old Warner's lot. NBA All-Star weekend (as if anyone remotely cares anymore).

I'm trying to talk myself out of it, "Don't do this, man. This is stupid. You've had a great time, it's late, everybody's drunk and dancing. Go home. Go to bed."

Rob Ryder, Dennis Rodman
Rob Ryder and Dennis Rodman back in the day before the war on The Worm began.
But, no. Not me. I'm from New Jersey.

It's that time in the booze-soaked party where people start falling out. That's the thing about open bars with quality liquor. You have to drink. It's like walking through a field of money. You gotta pick it up. You have a moral obligation to get your fair share.

And just because you can't walk out with a bottle in your hands doesn't mean you can't walk out with one in your stomach -- ounces of alcohol coursing through your bloodstream -- making you happy or sad, stupid or mad, or any combination of the above.

It's that time of night when you're sitting next to a guy on a couch and he slowly starts keeling over, eyes half-shut, his addled brain thinking, "I know there's a cushion down here somewhere and if I just keep leaning over like this, I'm gonna get there 'cause it's there, I know I saw it..."

Or the guy trying to cross the dance floor when he's had too much, and he'll do these flanking motions, like a sailboat tacking upwind, stumbling left for a while, then heading back right, like you improve your odds of finding your destination by covering more territory somehow, "I'm gettin' there, I'm gettin' there." And maybe he'll stop to dance a few steps before some girl will give him a look of pure disdain that will send him reeling along on his way.

Whereas a drunk woman will cross the dance floor like she's on a mission. Walking that straight line -- point A to point B -- putting one foot in front of the other, steps short and quick, knowing as long as she keeps leaning forward and staying focused she's gonna finally get there.

Or another group of beautiful young women clustered around a girlfriend who's holding onto a column like salvation itself, eyes crossed, speech slurred as her smarter girlfriends argue:

"Who's taking her home? You think I'm takin' her home?"

"Well, I ain't takin' her home."

And me, moron that I am, heading for Rodman, a gnarly ball of alcohol-induced anger building behind my eyeballs.

So what did he do to cause such resentment?

He denied me my very existence.

It was on that Whoopi Goldberg-coaches-the-Knicks-movie "Eddie" which I've trashed enough in this column, so suffice to say, if you haven't seen it, don't.

Rodman was still playing for the San Antonio Spurs. We were in the thick of the schedule, shooting a whole bunch of basketball -- multiple games, the Kings, the Hornets, the Suns -- Kurt Rambis working his rolodex, signing guys up, getting them in on time, and then essentially laying low in the office while I worked the floor, trying to get these millionaires to put some effort in for the cameras, but the ball came out soft because these guys were on vacation and this was a lark.

And Rodman?

He showed up like he didn't want to be there.

Ah, the dilemmas of the media darling.

I don't care if it's Martha Stewart or Ben Affleck, Paris, Michael or Janet, these people with this pitiful need to keep thrusting their pitifully needy personas upon us is growing truly tiresome.

Larry Bird
Larr, all you had to do was say "Hello". No harm, no foul.
So the great Dennis Rodman had chosen to bless us with his presence on "Eddie."

Only he didn't want anyone telling him what to do.

Correction: He didn't want me telling him what to do.

So I'd tell him through his agent at the time, Dwight Manley -- this young squeaky clean guy who didn't act like it was out of the ordinary for him to act as interpreter in a three way conversation even though we all spoke English!

It went like this -- standing at midcourt, Rodman looking off into the rafters:

"Hey, Dwight, in this first shot, we'd like Dennis to come from the weak side, block Ostertag's layup off the backboard, grab the rebound and outlet to Avery."

Dwight to Rodman: "Dennis, in this first shot, they'd like you to come from the weak side, block Ostertag's layup off the backboard, grab the rebound and outlet to Avery."

"Uh huh."

"Then, Dwight, we'd like Dennis to..."

It was ridiculous. But it was also disrespectful. And you know what? If you're thinking, "Boo hoo hoo, just get over it, man." Then you're not getting the point. Because when stuff like this doesn't get to you, that'swhen you have a problem. The day you become one of those sycophants who accepts this behavior is the day you surrendered a piece of your manhood.

It wasn't the first time this had happened.

It was at the NBA Chicago Rookie camp. I was looking for players -- it was just before draft day -- and I saw Larry Bird sitting alone, looking over this latest crop of NBA wanna-bes.

Since we'd both worked on "Blue Chips," I walked up, stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, Larry, I'm Rob Ryder, the guy who put the basketball players together for "Blue Chips" and I just wanted to say hello."

He didn't say a word. Didn't move a muscle. Totally ignored me.

"Uh... Larry?"

He stared straight ahead. He was right next to me. I stood there feeling like a total idiot. There was no one within 10 feet of us. He didn't turn and shake his head like, this isn't a good time. He didn't say, "Look, I'm busy right now..." He just sat there like I didn't exist.

And you know what? I didn't.

Finally I walked away, red-faced and pissed-off.

Sports writers get this treatment all the time. That's why things get so vitriolic. You don't think it makes these guys burn? I'm talking about the beat guys, the guys in the trenches.

But hey, no one made them become sports writers, you might think. And you're right. You get what you ask for in this life.

What was that line from Ron Shelton's screenplay (He told me it's a variation of a Bobby Knightism.)? Something like, "Guys who can't play or write become sportswriters."

A totally unfair statement as Ron readily admits. But, hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good line.

And never underestimate the potential of writers to beat themselves up.

Masochists, all of them.

You know who handles celebrity the right way? Jack Nicholson. "Just f---ing say 'Hello,' that's all you gotta do." Thanks, Jack, for keeping it real.

Anyway, back with Rodman on "Eddie" in North Carolina. We're all ready for the first shot when the First Assistant Director (A.D.) rushes up and whispers to me, "He's gotta take his earrings out. And the nose ring."

"Um, sure, yeah," I said. "Hey, Dwight, would you please ask Dennis to lose the jewelry."

"Dennis," said Dwight. "They need you to lose the jewelry."

So we all stood around, probably 180 people, cast and crew, camera operators, make-up, wardrobe, all of it, plus a couple thousand bored-out-of-their-minds extras as Dennis Rodman removed his multiple earrings.

But his nose ring was stuck. I could see he was struggling with it, but believe me, you don't wanna look too close.

The A.D. scurried back up and whispered in my ear, "What the f--- is goin' on?"

"Looks like his nose ring is stuck."

"Aw jeezus. I'll get a grip."

"Good idea," I lied.

So the A.D. rushed off and came back a minute later with one of the oldest, biggest, gnarliest, white-haired, red-faced, New York-based movie grips I'd ever met. He was wearing a toolbelt with about a thousand screwdrivers and pliers and wire-cutters and God knows what all, and I was thinking, "Aw man, how's this gonna go down?"

So the grip walked right up to Rodman and said, "What's the problem, Dennis?"

"Nose ring," Dennis answered.

The grip stared up Rodman's nose like a dentist examining a cavity. "Yeah, okay, I gotcha."

He grabbed some needle-nosed pliers and a pair of dikes and went to work, and the conversation went like this:

"So uh, Dennis, youse been seein' Madonna, huh?"

"Yeah. On and off."

"Yeah, I worked with her on 'Truth or Dare.'"

"No s---?"

"No s---. Nice girl, Madonna."

Then, snip, the nose ring was out, the A.D. yelled, "Roll sound," and we were on our way.

That was 1995. Almost ten years ago.

Let it go, man. It's late, you've had a great time, you made a nice connection with Baron Davis who wants to hear about your college hoops movie, "94 Feet."

So don't blow it now. Baron's the host. And he's got his own movie project in the works, "Blacktop" and like me, he wants to use current NBA players in his movie.

As he recently told David Aldridge, "Half the NBA acts anyway. They get their money and they act like thugs."

But no one's acting like a thug tonight. Everybody's been real cool, friendly, laughing, smiling.

Rodman's standing with a couple of beautiful women. He spots me making my approach and tilts his head up and off to the side. Normally that's enough to get people veering away.

But not me. Not tonight. I walk right up to him, virtually toe to toe, living proof that alcohol is this culture's most dangerous drug. Three parts stupidity, two parts belligerence, and nary a twist of common sense.

"Hey, Dennis, how ya doin'?"

No response.

"We worked together on 'Eddie.'"

He stares off into space (which incidentally is filled with bungee jumping gymnasts doing somersaults to the banging music -- it's that kind of party).

"Hey, Dennis, I said we worked together on 'Eddie.' Remember? Just thought maybe you'd say 'Hello' or something."

He slowly turns towards me. He doesn't look angry, he's not filled with contempt. He just looks dull. And he actually says something.

"Long time ago, bro."

I slowly smile. I am now complete. Dennis Rodman has acknowledged my existence. I turn away and head back across the dance floor and only now do I experience a flood of relief that Rodman didn't do a "Sprewell" on me.

It's the small victories.

When you're not worth a million.

And nobody knows your name.

Chalk one up for the little guy.

Now where can I find Larry Bird?

NEXT: BAT FIGHTS OR SCRIPT NOTES, PICK YOUR POISON

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and is a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at robryder@sbcglobal.net