We've called Dennis Rodman everything but a ballplayer this year. We've called him a lunatic, a troublemaker, an instigator, a rebel, a cross-dresser, a misfit, an oddball, a weirdo and an absolute wacko. We've even called him the supreme rebounder and a defensive specialist, but that's still inadequate. Whatever else he is, whether his hair is red or gold, whether he's dressed like a man or a woman, whether he's on the town with Madonna or Cindy Crawford, Dennis Rodman is a ballplayer, a great ballplayer.

With about 8 million people ready to jump all at once from the ledge after the Seattle SuperSonics pushed the Chicago Bulls further than anybody thought possible, it wasn't Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen who carried the team to a championship, it was Rodman, The Worm. Oh sure, Pippen was back in all-star form Sunday night with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. And the record will show that Jordan was voted the NBA Finals MVP for the fourth time, probably because he scored a team-high 22 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, had 7 assists, and was the driving force every moment of every day this season.

But Chicago's Dream Team Poster Boyz aren't the story of the Bulls' fourth championship in six years. The story, the whole story and nothing but the story is Rodman, the player people thought General Manager Jerry Krause was crazy to trade for before the season. "A lot of people thought I'd come in here and tear this organization apart," Rodman said.

What he did in Game 6 was tear the Seattle SuperSonics apart with 19 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, extraordinary energy for a 35-year-old, a blocked shot and no turnovers in 38 minutes. No turnovers. Of the 14 players who were on the floor for significant minutes, Rodman was the only one with no turnovers. "You can call me a lot of stuff," he said, "but the one thing I am is a competitor, a fighter."

Boy, was that evident in the final 15 minutes, when Jordan was having the worst-shooting big game (5 for 18) anybody could remember, and when the courageous, one-legged Ron Harper needed somebody, anybody, to pitch in. With the Bulls leading by 10 points, but with the game still tight, Rodman grabbed a missed shot and scored for 59-47. Then he took a nice pass from Pippen, scored despite Shawn Kemp hanging on him and completed the three-point play for 62-47. From rebounder and scorer, Rodman went to set-up man as he fired a picture-perfect pass to Jordan for the reverse layup that made it 64-47.

Everybody had spurts for Chicago. Harper early on defense and late on three-pointers; Jordan very early on the boards and at the foul line; Pippen early with previously absent drives to the basket; Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr early in the fourth quarter with three-point daggers every time Seattle tried to put together a little run. But Rodman was there the whole time, every minute, controlling or contesting every rebound and loose ball, getting the now-fabulous Kemp into foul trouble, which eventually disqualified him with 4:39 left.

Jordan would miss, Rodman would rebound. Pippen would miss, Rodman would rebound, Harper and Kerr and Kukoc would miss, Rodman would rebound. Seattle would miss, Rodman would rebound. This is the way, the only way, you can shoot 39.7 percent and win an NBA title.

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Teammate Luc Longley: "I thought Dennis did everything to win the MVP. He was sensational. Without him, there's no doubt we wouldn't have won tonight."

Seattle Coach George Karl: "Dennis Rodman won them two ballgames in this series. Game 2 and tonight, he was the reason they were successful. We controlled Michael Jordan for the most part in the series. We put him on the foul line a lot {where he was 11 for 12 on Sunday night}, but without that he had a pretty mediocre game."

Bulls Coach Phil Jackson: "It seems like we always got the ball back. Control of the ball was the factor in this game."

You know who controls the ball, don't you? Rodman. The Bulls outrebounded Seattle 51-35. "The last four years," Rodman said, referring to his troubled days in Detroit and San Antonio. "I'd like to thank the city of Chicago for having me."

It was as special a night for "The Supporting Cast" as the Bulls have ever had during the Jordan era. "Our team deserves a bow, a hats off," Pippen said.

Or as Jordan said, "I'm happy the team kind of pulled me through."

Right there as a co-star with Rodman was Harper, the 32-year-old journeyman who couldn't play Game 4 or Game 5 because of an injured knee that will require surgery almost immediately. It was Harper, when his name was announced, who received a frighteningly loud ovation from the 24,544 at United Center, who had a flashback to the days when earplugs were a necessity at old Chicago Stadium. True enough, Harper's man -- Gary Payton -- shot 70 percent from the field, but he got only 10 shots, got to the foul line only once, had only four rebounds. And oh, five turnovers, several forced by Harper's in-your-chest defense. Harper "may not be a glove," Jordan said, refering to Payton's nickname, "but he's a mitt. He fought through pain today to help bring us a championship."

Last, but never least, Jordan fought through his own pain. Some of it was physical, because his back stiffened Saturday night and Sunday morning, but more of it was emotional, because he was overwhelmed all day by thoughts of trying to win a title on Father's Day without his late father, James, in attendance. "It was probably the hardest time for me to play the game of basketball," Jordan said. "I had a lot of things in my heart and on my mind."

It was strange hearing Jordan say his mind wasn't on basketball the way he wanted, the way it usually is, but it was probably in "the right place . . . with my family, and my father not being here."

But in the end, Jordan concluded his father was watching from above, watching Rodman rebound and Pippen handle and Kerr shoot and Harper defend, watching his son's will become contagious as players discarded from elsewhere learned how to become champions. His son taught them that. And for that lesson, only a world championship is an adequate reward. CAPTION: Michael Jordan had 22 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists and was the NBA Finals MVP, but his little secret is that he couldn't have won a fourth NBA championship without Dennis Rodman.