Okay. First thing—Blake Shelton is not from Durant, Oklahoma.
I say this because I am from Durant, Oklahoma. And I can tell you that the people of Durant love to claim the country music star as one of their own. There are frequent Blake Shelton sightings in Durant—mostly in the local Wal-Mart—that are of the same mythical caliber of Bigfoot sightings in the Pacific Northwest. (He is also spotted at Lake Texoma a lot. And many of those Shelton sightings are probably real but Lake Texoma is not Durant, though Durant also likes to claim Lake Texoma as well.) Sometimes these Blake Shelton stories also come accompanied with grainy, long distance cell phone photos that prove nothing except that taller, dark haired men are indeed real and exist in Durant. But the thing is Bigfoot, theoretically, may exist—Blake Shelton, on the other hand, is verifiably not from Durant, Oklahoma.
Blake was actually born an hour away in the town of Ada, Oklahoma (not Durant). He does own property in Oklahoma, but definitely not in Durant as far as I can tell. The only time that I know for sure he has stepped foot in Durant is to play a concert at the Choctaw Nation Casino. Country music legend Reba McEntire also plays at this Casino on occasion. She was also born in Oklahoma, two hours north of Durant in the town of McAlester. But the citizens of Durant don’t claim Reba. The stories of her chowing down on some chicken crispers at the Chili’s in Durant do not compare to the number of Blake Shelton sightings. But Reba McEntire did actually live in Durant at one point. She is an alumni of the local college, Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Yet the citizens of Durant have more or less just allowed Central/North Texas to claim her as their own. And they proudly and weirdly do.
Now, I can understand a small town’s desire to claim someone famous as being from there. It gives a community that doesn’t even have a Starbucks some misplaced sense of self-worth to say that the charismatic country guy from TV’s The Voice is from “these parts” and buys his low-point beer from the same place they buy their low-point beer. However, I would think that claiming a current music legend who actually has ties to the small town is far more practical than claiming a possible future music legend who has only adjacent connections to the town. I mean, if we are going to bend the definition of “from here” as meaning “from near here”, Garth Brooks, the second highest selling musical artist of all time, qualifies—or Brad Pitt was also just born down the road. Any of these would seem to be far more impressive candidates of hometown hero for a town in the market for one. Of course, one could argue the case is as simple as the fact that Blake Shelton is currently more famous on a global level than Reba, even if her TV show was better and Blake has yet to write a song close to the same level of awesomeness as Fancy.
This all brings me to Dennis Rodman. A constant fixture of the “Greatest-Defensive-Basketball Player” of all-time conversation, Rodman is 7x NBA rebounding champion, 7x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and 5x NBA Champion. Dennis Rodman went to college in Durant, Oklahoma from which he was drafted by the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons. He would win his first two NBA Championships with Detroit before his future teammate, G.O.A.T Michael Jordan, would even get his first. As the world relives the Jordan’s basketball supremacy and Lebron purists question their allegiances as a result of the ESPN docuseries, “The Last Dance”, we are also reminded of the supporting cast—the dagger 3-pointers from Kerr and Paxon, a reminder that Pippen was number 2 in the league and compensated as the 122nd, and that Dennis Rodman was a defensive juggernaut despite himself. And no one in Durant, Oklahoma talks about Dennis Rodman.
I was born in Durant in 1985. This puts me at the perfect age range for being swept up in one of the biggest peaks of pro-basketball popularity with the Chicago Bulls dynasty run of the 90’s, the Dream Team and essentially every team having at least one or two future Hall of Famers on the roster. Basketball cards were the highest of currency in my elementary school with MJ cards being the Benny Franks. (I was getting in early on the Iverson stock myself). Card trading was eventually banned as a distraction by the school administrations and we were forced to trade them under lunch tables and in the shadows of the playground jungle gyms like high-top wearing-munchkin drug dealers. The hallways were a sea of red, white, and black and the number “23”. Status was defined by who had the name Jordan and Jumpman logo on their sneakers. Naturally, I too owned a Michael Jordan jersey, loved Space Jam, and had an MJ poster on my wall. This was more or less just considered the norm for a young boy in the mid-nineties. But Jordan was not my guy. That honored belonged to his teammate, Dennis Rodman.
In hindsight, this makes perfect sense. I would grow up to be a punk-rock kid (if one counts Blink-182 and a late discovery and love of The Ramones as punk-rock) who consumed counterculture and lived as alternatively as possible. I was so rebellious that I never touched drugs or alcohol because that was what the other kids were doing in high school. After Rodman, I gravitated towards the more controversial Allen Iverson as opposed to the more popular heir to throne of his Royal Airness that was Kobe Bryant. The first signature basketball shoes I ever owned were the red and yellow atrocities that were Air Bakin’s solely because they were so ugly. It was only natural that my first favorite basketball player was the over-pierced, multi-color haired, androgynous Dennis Rodman. He looked like Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man but starred in the kind of Van Damme action movies where Mickey Rourke would fight a tiger in a coliseum filled with land mines (This movie is real). For a ten-year-old looking to stand out, Rodman was the obvious gatekeeper to the attitude and aesthetic I craved.
And lets not forget…..Rodzilla. If anything else was as popular as the NBA in the 90’s it was professional wrestling. Monday nights brought every adolescent kid a war of oiled up musclemen German-suplexing each other for their limited attention spans. The WWF (now WWE) would come out on top as the victor, not really by means of a five-star, three count as much as a submission win over an opponent that shot themselves repeatedly. The rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson mixed with the staying power of legends like Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker definitely helped WWF outlast the WCW, who relied on stars of the 80’s challenging their own prime like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Macho Man Randy Savage while stagnating the rise of any new talent. And I totally watched the inferior product that was WCW. The WCW had the nWo and the nWo had Dennis Rodman. The nWo was a stable of heels (wrestling vernacular for “bad guys”) who were the coolest thing in pro-wrestling when pro-wrestling was cooler than anything. Long story short, the nWo angle blew up on the launch pad before it ever really hit orbit from over-saturation and being too inclusive to over-the-hill/low-card wrestlers. But, right before takeoff, they had Dennis Rodman.
So maybe hindsight is a cruel mistress and going back and watching Dennis Rodman’s short-lived wrestling career can pinpointed as the exact moment WCW and the nWo blew exploded at takeoff. It reeks of circus-styled sensationalism and involved the likes Utah Jazz’s Karl Malone and late-night host, Jay Leno. The whole thing was all that was wrong with wrestling and what would eventually seal the coffin on its peak in popularity and WCW as a company. But when you put it into context, Dennis Rodman simultaneously was appearing on the most watched show on TV and playing for an NBA Championship. For a microcosmic second, however brief a moment it was, Rodzilla usurped Jordan as the most famous basketball player on the planet.
I finally gotten the chance to see him play during his short stint for the Dallas Mavericks. Our middle school principle would hold a yearly assembly in which he would randomly draw the names of students and present them with the option of either getting to assist in shaving his head with a set of clippers or getting to go to a Dallas Mavericks game. I was never a fan of the Mavericks. They were the “local” team at the time—much in the same way that Blake Shelton is “local”—being two hours south of my town. But stars happened to perfectly align and Rodman joined their roster at this time. My name was drawn and I didn’t think twice about getting to publicly shame my principle as many of my peers had chosen to do.
I wanted to see my hero.
I had outgrown my Rodman jersey and my dreams of being a star point-guard in NBA by the time I was made aware that he had any association with my hometown. Even during the height of the Bull’s dynasty in the 90’s no one in Durant ever seemed to mention Dennis Rodman. I had worn my Rodman jersey to point of it being full of holes with the “Rodman” and “91” cracking and peeling off and my father failed to ever mention knowing Dennis Rodman during the height of popularity—or notoriety. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation; I just remember my dad mentioning that he had two hot checks from Dennis Rodman. The story goes that when my dad ran a convenient store in Durant, Rodman was a regular customer. He would purchase a bag of chips and a soda and get some quarters for an arcade machine that was in the store. According to my dad, Rodman still had ties to Oklahoma during his run with the Pistons and, in typical Rodman strangeness, is when he wrote my father two checks around the amount of $3 that bounced. I have seen these checks and to this day they are the only things in my father’s possession that I covet and wish to inherit.
With the existence of these two checks came two new pieces of information: the first being that Rodman attended the local university that I drove past every single day. I immediately went to Southeastern Oklahoma State University and went into the Bloomer Sullivan gymnasium to see his college jersey that was supposedly there.
Who is Bloomer Sullivan? No. Seriously… without googling it… tell me who he is?
Well, I had to look him up and my research tells me that he was an exceptional high school football player turned Division 2 college basketball coach in which he did really well by the standards of other Division 2 schools in the state of Oklahoma.
Now, I am not knocking those achievements. And to be fair, Bloomer’s accolades pre-date those of Dennis Rodman’s. Rodman was a college basketball player who played in the already-named Bloomer Sullivan gymnasium. All I am saying is that time calls for reflection and sometimes change comes with that reassessment of things. When Southeastern Oklahoma State began to build a basketball arena while keeping the aforementioned gymnasium intact as a practice facility, how is Dennis Rodman Arena not up for debate as the name of the new facility? Instead, SOSU just has Bloomer Sullivan Gymnasium and Bloomer Sullivan Arena. Which is kind of stupid.
An Oklahoma Conference Collegiate title is cool. Especially 13 of them.
But NBA championships are cooler. Especially 5 of them.
Secondly, rumor has it, according to my father, I have met Dennis Rodman on more than one occasion.
OK, so imagine for a moment meeting your childhood idol, supposedly even being held by your childhood idol….whoever that maybe—Michael Jordan, Hulk Hogan, The Green Power Ranger, or Brooks & Dunn…whoever—and having zero recollection of it.
It’s a trip.
But my father says its true and I choose to believe him because being held as a toddler by Dennis Rodman is worthy of bragging rights by my book.
Even if my hometown chooses not to think so.
Dennis Rodman is a basketball legend. No matter who many times he chooses to marry himself or how many bad actions movies he chooses to star in. He can be the best man in Kim Jong Un’s next wedding, and it doesn’t take away his accomplishments as a defensive monster the likes of which the NBA hasn’t really seen since.
And maybe his eccentricities are why a small, conservative Oklahoma town chooses to pretend he never really happened.
But he is almost nothing more than an urban legend in the town of Durant, Oklahoma. And this will always baffle me. Yes, his jersey is on display in the Bloomer Sullivan Arena…even though his name belongs on the arena itself. The only place I’ve ever seen Rodman’s picture in Durant outside of the college basketball arena was in a steak house, The Branding Iron, and it just shut down. And I would argue that the giant plaster cow that marked the restaurant location on Main Street was locally more famous than Rodman.
So, I think it’s important for me to at least emphasize that Dennis Rodman positively impacted my life, a citizen of Durant, Oklahoma, despite the town’s best efforts to claim Blake Shelton instead.
Blake Shelton has had no impact on my life….and I have pumped gas into his boat and couldn’t have cared less.