Barry Mungar was among the best players on the floor.
On Day 1 at the Portsmouth Invitational, the former St. Bonaventure basketball star, wearing the plain blue jersey representing “Sales System,” played a major role in his team’s 114-103 victory over “Naval Shipyard,” totaling 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting and four rebounds.
Mungar’s name was the second one listed in the scoring column from that day — April 2, 1986. That’s the way it appears on the weathered, hand-written stat sheet he recently stumbled upon from his week at the prestigious NBA pre-draft camp.
The only player to truly overshadow him that afternoon?
The name just below Mungar’s in that first column: Dennis Rodman.
Mungar had met the quiet 6-foot-6 forward a day earlier, when the two were randomly placed on the same team. He’d never heard of Rodman, who’d go on to become one of the most eccentric and polarizing players — not to mention, one of the best rebounders — in NBA history, “knew nothing about him.”
No one did. After all, this was a guy who’d played mostly in anonymity at NAIA Southeastern Oklahoma State.
But they were about to.
That day, Rodman racked up 30 points on 13-of-21 shooting and an impressive 21 rebounds. By the end of the week, he’d stolen the show.
“We get to the gym and there’s all these big people there: Red Auerbach, Jerry West, that kind of thing,” said Mungar, who touched on this very topic for a story last June and expanded on it Wednesday, “and Rodman just goes off. I had 20 points, I’m thinking that’s a good game against that kind of talent. But he just stood out head and shoulders above everyone else.”
RODMAN HAS become something of a headline again, one of the central figures in the ongoing, and fascinating, docuseries “The Last Dance,” chronicling the Michael Jordan-led 1990s Chicago Bulls.
He was the star of Episode 3, which focused largely on his high-profile affair with Madonna, brief marriage to Carmen Electra and brazen visits to Las Vegas.
In Portsmouth, Va., in 1986, however, he was just … Dennis.
Rodman, who lined up at center in that opening game against Naval Shipyard, fared so well that they moved him to power forward for the remainder of the camp, making the 6-foot-8 Mungar deal with the brutes inside.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not really a center,’ and they said, ‘Well, yeah, but we want to free Dennis up to run the court.’ I ended up guarding all the big guys, all the 7-footers (including eventual standout Blazers center Kevin Duckworth), got banged around, and Rodman got to run around and do his own thing …
“But, man, he was so quick to the ball with his cat-like reflexes and hands like magnets. He was a machine … he was just a machine.”
ON APRIL 5, the duo helped “Sales System” complete an unbeaten week with a 122-108 victory over Lewis Chevrolet.
In that one, Mungar had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds while Rodman had 11 points and 16 boards. Mungar, as he laughingly recalled, was also finally able to get the better of Syracuse standout Wendell Alexis, whom he’d gone 0-4 against while with the Bonnies.
“I had a good game,” the Ontario, Canada, native recalled. “Dennis’ stats dropped off a little, but he still had like 16 rebounds. I don’t know if I’ve ever had 16 rebounds in a game in my life — maybe in high school.”
Twenty years later, Mungar watched as Rodman helped the Bulls to the second of its 90s three-peats. He, like everybody else, was intrigued by what the NAIA product had become, shedding his clean-cut look for the tattoos, piercings and dyed hair — the bad boy persona — he’d become defined by.
“At that time, (Madonna) was kind of the trendsetter in the world, in the music industry, with all her crazy clothing and everything,” Mungar recalled, “so I think his experience with her probably opened him up, because he became very radical, so to speak … not at all the Dennis I knew; the Dennis in Virginia was quiet, didn’t say a word, very introverted.”
IN BETWEEN, the paths of Mungar, who’d play for the Canadian National Team at the 1988 Summer Olympics and forge a successful career overseas, and Rodman, who’d ultimately win five NBA titles, crossed a final time.
In the early 90s, Mungar, as one of the country’s most prominent players at the time, was asked to throw up the ceremonial jump ball at an NBA exhibition game at then-Copps Coliseum in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.
One of the teams that happened to be playing that night was Rodman’s Detroit Pistons.
“Dennis walks out and lines up at the circle, and I said, ‘Hey, Dennis, you don’t remember me, do you?’” Mungar recalled. “I said, ‘Barry Mungar, we played together in Portsmouth in the NBA camp.’
“‘Oh my goodness, Barry, how are you?!’ He came over and he kind of gave me a little bit of a hug, he lined up and that was it. I haven’t spoken to him or seen him since.”
MUNGAR, though, is happy to see Rodman’s name back in the spotlight.
It’s given him a reason to sift through his old scrapbooks, field a phone call from a reporter and remind some of his old buddies: He and Rodman did play together, and they were perhaps the two best players on their team.
The former Bonnie, who two months after his week in Virginia was taken in the fourth round of the NBA Draft, 55 picks after “The Worm,” said he “always watched (Rodman’s) career from afar.”
And he never stopped rooting for him.
“Watching Rodman’s career go in the direction it did was very exciting for me,” he acknowledged, while recounting some of the “great memories” from his own successful playing career. “I’ve often had to put people in their place when they say, ‘Oh, he’s a nut, that’s guy’s crazy; I can’t believe he’s in the NBA.’ And I tell them, ‘Let me tell you about that guy … that guy is one of the most athletic people on the planet. You’re talking about a guy that can jump out of the gym, that can run a four-minute mile … he’s just one of the fittest guys you’ll ever meet.’
“And I tell people, he deserved everything that he got, and I still tell people, I think pound-for-pound, he’s the greatest rebounder ever to play.”