It was 1990. I was thirteen, 5’8” and bony, amazingly handsome, obsessed with the WWF and my two-time NBA World Champion Detroit Pistons. I sat in the front lobby of Detroit Metropolitan Airport with my mom, waiting on my dad to park the car so we could fly to San Francisco to see my uncle Norris. I glanced down the hallway and noticed a tall black man who walked with several nervous, small white men who circled him like gnats. He seemed unconcerned, removed, detached. And from a distance, he seemed like the starting power forward on my favorite basketball team on the planet.
“Mom,” I asked, “is that Dennis Rodman?”
“No,” she replied, without bothering to look up.
“Yeah, Mom. I think that’s him.”
“No, it isn’t.” My mom was immovable when she believed something was right. But she still hadn’t removed her eyes from whatever she was fishing for in her purse.
“Can I have a pen? I think that’s him.”
“No,” she continued, mercilessly, “because I don’t want you bothering that poor man if it’s not him.”
If it’s not him? I thought. How many 6’8”, 225-pound defensive-minded power forwards with a slope haircut and two championship rings are roaming the airport at the moment? I knew then that my mother was an obstacle, to be overcome at all costs. Somehow, I had to find a way to acquire a pen and paper, dash fifty feet to the end of the hallway and acquire Dennis’s autograph before he boarded his plane to whatever magical place he was going. Deep in thought -- because time was of the essence -- I had just begun to concoct a dazzling, intricate ruse when a loud, familiar voice careened past my ears.
“Oh my God! It’s Dennis Rodman!”
It was my mom. She finally looked up.
Before I could say anything, she was off: a short, pretty, 48-year-old peach-colored woman with brown moles on her face sprinted down the hallway, dragging her purse and suddenly reluctant son, who was now more preoccupied with his impending humiliation. Dennis was almost through the metal detector when my mom grabbed him by the right shoulder and turned him around.
“Yes?” he said, amazingly unruffled, as though strange, older black women from Toledo yanked him by his shoulder every day.
“Are you Dennis Rodman?” my mother said, breathing heavy.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.
“Well, this is my son,” she said, “and he plays basketball too… Well, shake his hand!”
Dennis shook my hand as I stood there, ashamed. “So you play ball, too, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
“Well keep it up. One day I might have to play you,” he replied, with a chuckle. He turned to my mom. “May I go now?”
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
He smiled at us and walked through the detector -- with the small white men in suits continuing to circle him -- into the bowels of Detroit Metro, far, far away from me and my mom. My dad finally caught up with us.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Baby, that was Dennis Rodman,” my mother gushed.
My father was not a basketball fan, but he was familiar with the Bad Boys because I spoke of little else.
“Oh,” he said, matter-of-fact, “why didn’t you get his autograph?”
Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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4.22.04 @ 11:35a
That memory seems to be worth more than the autograph it cost you. Nice work, nice bio as well.
4.22.04 @ 12:06p
Props to anyone with that bio.
4.22.04 @ 6:43p
You never told me about that one brah. You didn't really want THE WORM's autograph anyway did you? Why?
4.22.04 @ 9:56p
Man, this was pre-earrings, pre-tattoos and wedding dresses and pink hair color. You know The Worm was that fire before he learned the power of marketing. Your Lakers knew it, lol.