Dennis Rodman

Thomas Giustino


Dennis Rodman was born May 13, 1961 in Trenton, New Jersey. His father, Philander, deserted the family when Rodman was only three years old. His mother, Shirley, was left with the task of raising him and his two older sisters. Rodman grew up in the Oak Cliff part of Dallas, Texas, which was known to be one of the worst areas of Dallas at that time. Rodman was very attached to his mother although his mother seemed to take more interest in his two older sisters who outshined him in athletic ability at a young age. Rodman described himself as frail and shy and said he was often bullied and sometimes beaten up by his classmates. Entering high school, Rodman was 5’6” and was cut from the football team and sat the bench on the basketball team. His older sisters were All American basketball players at Louisiana Tech and Stephen F. Austin which made Rodman feel even worse about his abilities when he compared himself to his sisters who were athletically gifted.
After graduating high school, at a height of 5’11”, Rodman worked as an overnight janitor at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. This job quickly led to trouble. Rodman was dared to stick his broom handle through a gift shop grate and stole fifteen watches. Rodman was arrested and jailed for a night but released and no charges were pressed when he revealed the location of the watches. This infuriated his mother who laid down an ultimatum for Rodman. He was to go to college, join the military, or find a better job and do something productive with his life. He ignored his mother and was kicked out of his house.
Some luck came Rodman’s way but he was not the one to recognize it. Rodman shot up to 6’8” from 5’11” in just about a year. Rodman felt very uncomfortable due to his growth spurt and became even more withdrawn and did not like his body. He said he felt so insecure around women, possibly due to him growing up being the only male in the household and having no father figure, and he felt unsure about his sexuality at this point in his life. He did not have his first sexual experience with a woman until he was twenty years old because he felt so uncomfortable around woman and he described this experience as unpleasant, as it was with a prostitute. Rodman continues to have trouble with women to this day.
After taking notice to his growth spurt, a family friend helped him get a spot on the Cooke County College basketball team in Gainesville, Texas. With his new height, he was a new player but quickly flunked out of school after one year of basketball. He then transferred to Southeastern Oklahoma State University where he continued to play basketball. Rodman was a three time NAIA All American in his time playing basketball in college and was looking to make it big in the NBA. Rodman caught the attention of the Detroit Pistons and was the twenty-seventh pick in the second round of the 1986 NBA draft. Rodman had great success on many teams in the NBA but began to show his aggressive attitude in response to the business aspects of the sport. He thought of the NBA as a “rotten business” and this began to show in his outbursts on and off the court. Rodman is well known for his aggressive manners, multiple piercings, tattoos, and multi-colored hair. Rodman played until the year 2000, but was released from the Lakers after only twenty-three games and then from the Mavericks after being ejected twice in only twelve games.
Before, during, and after his NBA career Rodman struggled with maintaining relationships with women as mentioned above. He dated Madonna and claimed she wanted to marry him and that she tried to conceive a child with him. He broke it off with her and claimed he was bisexual and going to marry himself. He later married Carmen Electra when he was intoxicated and the marriage lasted a total of ten days. He has had a life filled with ups and downs.

Perspective 1: Psychoanalytic Approach

Using Sigmund Freud’s perspective and his psychoanalytic approach to psychology there are a few things that stand out about Dennis Rodman. Freud might say that Rodman was stuck in the phallic stage of psychosexual development. According to Freud, the phallic stage is a stage in which the child gains pleasure through his genitals and may rival his father due to the Oedipus complex. Rodman had no father to rival and then to identify with after getting over the Oedipus complex which Freud defined as a young boys desire to be with his mother. Perhaps because Rodman had no father, this is why he tried to be very close with his mother who rejected him throughout his childhood. The conflict associated with this stage is overt sexual behavior which is socially unacceptable and being fixated at this stage may result in vanity, narcissism, and the inability to love. Based on some of Rodman’s words and actions, he seemed to struggle in relationships and have trouble with commitment. This fits with the characteristic of the inability to love. He dated Madonna for a period of time only to end it because she wanted to make the relationship more serious. He claimed that he was bisexual and was going to marry himself before leaving her. However, he has been married once, to Carmen Electra. The wedding took place when Rodman was in an intoxicated state and lasted a short ten days. This may have to do with his vanity and narcissism, thinking that he is too good to settle for just one woman.
Freud’s approach would also examine Rodman’s levels of anxiety. Freud defined anxiety as challenges from the outer environment and from his inner urges that threaten us. Freud focused on three distinct parts of the mind. The id is based on primitive drives, emotions, aggression, sex and hunger and operates on the pleasure principle. The ego balances the id, the super ego, and reality. The super ego is seen as internalized social norms and operates on the principle of morality. Although the ego is supposed to deal realistically with the environment sometimes, according to Freud, we must distort reality to protect ourselves against the painful or threatening impulses that arise from the id. Freud referred to this idea as defense mechanisms. Repression is pushing threatening thoughts and ideas into the unconscious. Freud might use this as an explanation for some of Rodman’s behavioral problems. These forgotten memories may have been suddenly remembered during his adulthood which may be used to explain his outlandish behavior and his excessive body piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair.
Another defense mechanism, reaction formation, is described as the process of hiding threatening impulses by over-emphasizing their opposites. During his teen years Rodman was unsure of his sexuality and later in life he became involved with many women and could not remain in a long term relationship. Freud might see his excessive amount of sexual partners as a defense mechanism and might even conclude that Rodman is perhaps a homosexual, hiding it by showing a constant need for interaction with different women.

Perspective 2: Neo-Analytic Approach

The neo-analytic approach expands in different directions off of the psychoanalytic approach and brings some new ideas to analyzing personality. Alfred Adler emphasized the importance of social conditions on personality. Adler felt that the idea of striving for superiority was a central core of personality. Based on this, Rodman may have been said to have developed an inferiority complex, which is an exaggerated feeling of incompetence and feeling helpless as a result of his childhood. He viewed himself as lesser than his two highly athletic and successful sisters and took a back seat to them in his eyes. However, after a large growth spurt and discovering his athletic talents and drive to win he may have developed a superiority complex to overcome his inferiority complex brought about from his childhood. According to Adler this is defined as an exaggerated feeling of self worth. Rodman may have felt he was too good and always wanted to stand out. He always had different color hair and enjoyed being the focal point where ever he went. This may also explain why he could not commit to just one woman. Adler also came up with a concept known as aggression drive. He felt that this was a drive to lash out against the inability to achieve something, a reaction to perceived helplessness. Before and after developing a superiority complex this can be used to explain much of Rodman’s inappropriate behavior. Before developing a superiority complex Rodman struggled with school and was arrested for stealing. His perceived helplessness could be viewed as his poor grades in school and his lack of a good job. After his success he was still very aggressive in the NBA, he once head butted a referee and was suspended for several games. He felt the league was too much about business and not enough about the love of the sport. He began to express his anger in games and was known to start conflicts with many players. Adler might view this as him fighting for a greater cause, the love of the game, and he felt that he could not achieve this goal because everyone was all business and only thought about money in Rodman’s eyes.
Adler also focused on birth order. He suggested the last born child might feel overly pressured to succeed in all areas and the inability to do so may result in a lazy and defeatist attitude. Rodman had two older sisters who achieved greatly in many aspects, especially basketball. When Rodman was cut from his high school football team he was devastated. He then tried out for basketball and played very little and was even further discouraged. Adler would attribute Rodman’s poor performance in school and sports to the high amount of pressure put on him to live up to his two older sisters. He may have felt as though he could not live up to them no matter how hard he tried. Once he found his talent he began to succeed because the pressure was lessened.


Dennis Rodman’s life and personality can be viewed from many different approaches and several conclusions can be drawn to give reasons for his behavioral problems. I think that his childhood and school years played an enormous role in shaping his personality and the type of person he is.
Freud may have felt that Rodman was stuck in the phallic stage of psychosexual development but I am not so sure that I agree with this view. Rodman did not have a father to rival, rather just a man he knew existed who he despised. Rodman appears to have an inability to love and comes off as vain and narcissistic at times, but perhaps marriage and settling down is not something he ever planned to do. He once said, “Relationships and athletes don’t mix.” I feel that a lot of Rodman’s personality problems can be seen as coming from growing up in a household of all females and having no father figure there to help him through his childhood. He was bullied in school and his father may have been able to give him advice on how to handle these types of situations.
Rodman was the last-born child out of three children. Adler proposed that the last child is usually more pampered than the rest of the children and remain the baby of the family. In analyzing Rodman’s life and personality I would disagree with this. Rodman was given an ultimatum by his mother and kicked out of his house after high school. This was after years of being looked down upon by his mother for not being as successful as his sisters. He was not given a fair chance from a young age; I would not call this a loving or pampered life. This may apply to some last born children but this was not the case for Rodman. Rodman had to work and earn everything in his life which may be why he constantly voices his opinions and acts out even as a grown man. The struggles he faced as a child are not easily forgotten and seem to still affect him to this day.


Friedman, H.S., & Schustack, M.W. (2009). Personality classic theories and modern research. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Dennis Rodman. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from
Dennis’ Biography (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from Dennis Rodman Official Website: