On the Monday morning after the Chicago Bulls had defeated the Utah Jazz 96-54 in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals to take a 2-1 lead, it was business as usual. The Bulls were two wins away from defeating the Jazz in the Finals for the second straight season. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson were about to complete their second three-peat. For Jordan, Pippen and Jackson, it would be their sixth championship in eight seasons.
The Bulls were scheduled for a team film session followed by media availability, which the NBA mandated. When media members arrived to speak with players, Rodman was not at the United Center. Jackson was unperturbed, joking that the NBA would fine Rodman for missing the session and reminding him through the media that practice was at 10:30 a.m. the following day.
The Bulls had gotten used to Rodman’s antics, which they accepted as part of the deal in exchange for his providing a defensive presence and being a dominant force on the boards. In March 1996, Rodman headbutted referee Ted Bernhardt in a game against the New Jersey Nets and received a six-game suspension. In January 1997, Rodman kicked a cameraman in the groin during a game in Minnesota and was suspended 11 games. In January 1998, Rodman missed a shootaround and the team sent him home.
But this one would top them all. Rodman had taken the day off. He was scheduled to fly to Auburn Hills, Michigan, to appear on WCW’s Monday Nitro as a member of the New World Order (“NWO”) to start a feud with Karl Malone, the player he’d face in the Finals. While WCW had not yet made that storyline public, it had set a main event for its July 1998 Bash at the Beach pay-per-view in July, a month after the Finals. It would be a tag team match pitting Hulk Hogan and Rodman against Malone and Diamond Dallas Page.
Officially, Rodman and Hogan won the match, thanks to interference from NWO member The Disciple. Malone got his money’s worth, though.