Dennis Rodman’s Ex-Accountant Spills the Tea on His Wildest Client
The Worm’s former accountant opens up to Tarpley Hitt about how the NBA legend is not who you think he is.
It has been 46 days since the NBA suspended its season and 44 days since nearly every other sports franchise followed suit, leaving fans to busy themselves with intermittent horse races, online chess, and betting on the weather. Then on Sunday night, The Last Dance debuted on ESPN. The 10-part Michael Jordan docuseries following the Chicago Bulls’ ’97-98 season became the channel’s most-watched documentary ever, drawing more than 6 million viewers that night alone. The success was no surprise. Jordan, who declined interviews for David Halberstam’s bestselling book about the same season, sat down for three in the series.
But The Last Dance’s viewership was also a tell of how the sports vacuum has elevated the stories around them, how sports- and culture-starved fans are jumping for historical miscellany, old commentary, and the details on the fringes. That’s pretty much why, earlier this week, I wound up on the phone with the father of a friend of a friend—a guy named Michael Kane, who spent the decade from 1986 until just before that famous season, working as Dennis Rodman’s accountant.
Rodman, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Celebrity Apprentice alum, Madonna’s ex-boyfriend, and informal ambassador to North Korea, figures prominently in the next episode of The Last Dance. The installment revisits an incident when Rodman secured Phil Jackson’s permission to take a 48-hour vacation to Las Vegas, and did not come back. But Kane met Rodman a decade earlier, when he was a gangly rookie signed to the Detroit Pistons—the guy who would tell a reporter during his first training camp, “I’m a nobody, straight out of nowhere.”
At the time, Kane ran a CPA firm in Maryland called Michael A. Kane Chartered, where he filed taxes for a slew of businessmen, politicians, and lawyers. In the early 1980s, an ex-client-turned-friend of his named William Pollak, a former White House legal adviser under Jimmy Carter, approached Kane about signing some professional basketball players. Soon, he had over a dozen NBA clients: Bernard King, Albert King, Bill Wellington, Chris Dudley, Nate McMillan, Chris Mullin, Charles Oakley, Maurice Lucas, and Jason Williams (as in, “White Chocolate,” not the Jayson Williams who accidentally killed a limousine driver). Also on the roster: Rodman.
“I met Dennis right before his opening season,” Kane said. “But he was—I don’t want to say ‘normal’—but when he was young and innocent, how about that? Dennis’ outward persona was very different from his inward persona. He was a very soft-spoken, shy, quiet person—I felt.”
Kane described accounting work as “glorified babysitting,” particularly for professional athletes, many of whom come into multi-million dollar contracts young and barely out of school. He prepared taxes, worked with investment advisers, paid some of the bills, and coached young players on how to make their salaries last beyond their peak playing years. One of the most frequent arguments he got into with athletes involved leasing expensive cars and then outfitting them with roof and front spoilers. “It’s not your car!” Kane said. “You have to return it in three years. So why would you lease a $100,000 car, put $25,000 into it, and get rid of it in three years? That happened all the time. What a waste of money!”
As a client, Kane said, Rodman kept to himself. He wasn’t forthcoming about much. (“When I filed Dennis’ return—he was unique,” Kane said. “If he got a refund, I did a good job. If he owed money, he was not happy with me.”)
On one occasion, Kane flew to Detroit to meet Rodman while he was playing for the Pistons. They had just played the Los Angeles Lakers in the third game of the 1989 NBA Playoffs, where Rodman had pulled down 19 rebounds, despite suffering from intense back spasms. “I spent the day with him so that he got to the doctors’ appointments, and got to the chiropractor’s,” Kane said. “I rode with him. He didn’t go for the flashy cars back then. He bought a pickup truck, and he took out the front seat and put in all this audio equipment. He was like a teenager.”
At the time, Kane’s kids were young and in school. Every year, when their school hosted an annual silent auction, Rodman would donate something. “I had to ask him once. Just once. ‘Can you arrange to have a couple pairs of sneakers autographed and sent to me for my kids’ silent auction?’ Not a problem—within four days I would have a couple pairs of his shoes, autographed, and donate them to silent auction.This is what I mean—that aspect of his personality, and just being a good person. He’s a mush—that’s what I think. He’s a mush!”
Other interactions were less tender. Once, in the early ’90s, when Rodman had just begun dating Madonna, Kane went to see him. Rodman hadn’t yet dyed his hair—or shown up to a New York bookstore in a wedding dress to announce he was bisexual and marrying himself. But he had collected a few tattoos, and one of the most famous girlfriends in the world. When Kane teased him about dating a “rock superstar,” Rodman began telling a story:
He said he took off his shirt, and [Madonna] saw a tattoo on his chest that said “Converse.” So she said, “What’s that all about?” And he said, “Oh, that was one of the shoe companies that gave me a contract.” And she said, “Oh.” And then he took off his pants and on his thigh was a big Nike swoosh. And she said, “What’s that all about?” And he said, “That was another shoe contract I got money for.” And then he took his underpants off and on his male member it said “AIDS.” and she said, “Whoa, what is going on with that?” And he said, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna say Adidas.”
“I’m sure it’s not true,” Kane added. “That was his idea of a joke.”
Not long later, Kane got a beeper message from a number he didn’t recognize. It had a 213 area code. “I called and this woman answered the phone,” he said. “She had a New York accent and she goes, ‘What are we going to do about the Big D?’ I was like, ‘I-I-I don’t know what we do about the Big D, but if you put him on I can try.’ So he gets on the phone, and I said, ‘Was that who I think it was?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ So I guess my claim to fame was I got to speak on the phone to Madonna one time.”
In the mid-’90s, Kane and Rodman parted ways. As Kane tells it, Rodman had stopped working with his friend, William Pollak, and taken on a new agent. When Kane got the player’s finances later that year, he saw that Rodman had leased a Porsche 911 and a house in California. “So I called him and I said, ‘Dennis, why? You can’t fit in a Porsche, why are you leasing a Porsche? And why are you leasing a house in California?’ In the offseason he would go back to Oklahoma, where he had a construction company—he loved these big front-end loaders—where he would lease this large, earth-moving equipment. So I asked him, why are you leasing a house and a car in California? He said his agent was going to be using them.”
Kane allegedly told Rodman that if he wasn’t using the house and car, he should charge rent to make it a business transaction. “The guy’s got to pay you some money for it,” Kane said. “You can’t just lease cars and give them to people, especially if it’s a business relationship. About three days after that, I got a certified letter saying I was fired. That was the end of my relationship with Dennis Rodman.”
Kane couldn’t confirm whether his termination was a result of his advice, and Rodman’s publicist did not respond to requests for comment. But the accountant followed his former client’s transformation over the next few decades. He read his book. He watched his movies. He watched him befriend Kim Jong Un.
“I got a kick out of it. Oh my god, North Korea? My god. When he married Carmen Electra? Oh my god. And dating Madonna? Oh my god. Because here’s this guy, he came from nothing! He used to have to steal watches. He cleaned airports. The other thing about Dennis is when you watch a basketball game, you’re focused on who’s got the ball. Dennis was one of the few players in my experience where you would watch him and not the ball. You always wanted to see what he was doing.”
(The North Korea trips, while posing more than one moral problem, Kane said, would likely not have affected his taxes. Though two of his trips were sponsored by advertisers—the Irish gambling company Paddy Power and a cryptocurrency banking service for the marijuana industry called PotCoin.com—neither would qualify as income, unless they funded more than his travel expenses. “It presents a wrinkle,” Kane said, “but not a wrinkle that can’t be ironed out.”)
A few years after they parted ways professionally, Kane ran into Rodman. “His hair was like, yellow or something, and he said, ‘Boy, did we have fun.’ I said, ‘Maybe you did. I always felt like I was fighting with you.’ And he said to me, ‘I always knew you were trying to do right by me’—something to that effect. That made me feel good. Because that’s all I was trying to do. Not gouge these guys, not steal from them or feed into their egos. They had that from everyone else.”