Trinity Rodman Makes Her Own Way

Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY
Jun 27, 2023; Carson, Calif., USA; Trinity Rodman speaks to the press on June 27, 2023 at the U.S. Women’s National Team media day.

It was August 2011, and 9-year-old Trinity Rodman found herself among giants of the sports world. With her brother DJ at her side, they led their father, Dennis – the NBA rebounding extraordinaire – down the aisle for his Hall of Fame induction speech in Springfield, Mass.

They passed Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. There was inductees Chris Mullin and Tara VanDerveer, plus NBA commissioner David Stern. Was that Bill Walton?

The siblings arrived at their front-row seats next to their mother, Michelle, who had raised them on her own. Before taking the stage, Dennis Rodman removed his red scarf and placed it over Trinity’s shoulders. DJ, 10, got the feathered hat and blue boa.

During his speech, between teary pauses, Dennis said he carried one big regret: “I wish I was a better father.”

A dozen summers later, amid a flowering soccer career, Trinity Rodman prepares to step onto her own grand stage. From the moment she was selected No. 2 overall by the Washington Spirit in the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League draft, Rodman has set out to forge a name for herself.

She did not run from her surname, which is famous enough to invite are-you-related-to questions. Rather, it was part of her story, one that now includes a place on the U.S. World Cup squad vying for a record third consecutive trophy this summer in New Zealand and Australia.

Rodman, 21, has made a steady climb with the national team since her debut in early 2022. Earlier this month, in the final tuneup before the World Cup, she entered at halftime and scored two late goals during a 2-0 victory over Wales.

In her third year with the Washington Spirit, she has become one of the NWSL’s most exciting players with a mixture of speed, unpredictability, passing precision and scoring prowess.

“The future is limitless,” Spirit Coach Mark Parsons said. “I hope she gets the opportunity [at the World Cup] to show what she can do because I think she can take over the world.”

Always ‘hunting’

Rodman does not have much of a relationship with her 62-year-old father, who could not be reached for comment. She longed for closer ties but has come to accept who he is. In 2021, he surprised her by attending a Spirit playoff game at Audi Field. They embraced on the sideline. Afterward, her emotions spilled out in an Instagram post.

“I have not been in communication with him for months now,” the 21-year-old forward said in late June, shortly after being named to the World Cup roster. “I’ve gotten closure with it all, and I know he’s proud of me. I truly do. He has his own things to deal with, but he’s communicated to me that he knew I was going to be here [with the national team], and that’s all I need.”

While her brother followed their father’s path into basketball – he started for Washington State last season before becoming a USC Trojan this spring – Trinity has excelled in soccer since childhood in Southern California.

Though she isn’t close to her father, Rodman says she draws from him athletically.

“I watched my dad play a lot more than people really know. . . . Obviously my dad was pretty good at rebounding,” she said, eliciting laughter from a group of reporters. Like her father, she said she is always “hunting” for the ball and for opportunity.

Despite standing an undersized 6 feet 7, Dennis Rodman led the NBA in rebounding seven consecutive years and averaged 13.1 over a 14-year career.

“Even if he wasn’t the first guy under the basket and [other players] were way bigger, way taller, he was going to get the rebound,” Rodman said. “It was timing. It wasn’t just patience. It was body movement. It was positioning. It was everything. He was so intelligent.”

She applies those lessons to soccer.

“It’s hunting in front of goal, it’s hunting when you lose the ball, and I think that’s a huge part of my game,” she said. “It’s tracking back and being the first person to get a foot, a head, a knee, a shin on something that pops up.”

She also said she admired his game mentality, “even the days he didn’t prepare the best when he was out partying. . . . It doesn’t even matter what he was doing the night before, what he was doing the morning of; he was there every single game. You can’t take that away from him. His mentality was insane. I mean, he laid it all on the line.”

Rodman’s mother is her guiding light.

“My last name has always been a factor, especially before I made my own way,” Rodman said. “But there’s always expectations and questions that I had before. I proved myself, but my mom helped me a lot with tuning that out and being about my family and my success.”

Athletic similarities to her father are undeniable. She is 5-8, fast and unpredictable. She is a provider and a finisher. Some of her 20 goals and 13 assists across all NWSL competitions have been breathtaking.

“Everyone has seen the flashes of absolute quality in attacking and defending,” Parsons said. “She loves to win the ball back and chase people, hunt people. And then when she has the ball, she can hurt people in many ways.”

Spectacular but unrefined, Rodman won the NWSL rookie of the year award in 2021 as the Spirit won its first championship. That offseason, she signed the wealthiest guaranteed contract in league history, a four-year deal averaging $275,000 annually. She also has endorsement deals with Adidas, Bose, EA Sports and Marriott, among others.

After rising through the youth national team program, Rodman made her senior debut in February 2022. With the World Cup just 17 months away and her international experience limited, the timetable seemed too tight to contend for a roster slot.

In each camp, though, she made strides. With other attackers sidelined by injuries, additional playing time opened up. Thirteen of her 18 appearances have come as a sub, and she has scored four goals.

U.S. teammates have admired Rodman’s rapid growth.

“She’s a special player with so many talents,” said Alex Morgan, 34, the team’s star striker. “She is going to have a long career on the national team. She’s so technical, so fast, so good with her feet. She can get herself open for the shot, but she also makes a great pass. She’s also really eager to learn.”

Defender Emily Sonnett, a former Spirit player, echoed Morgan’s thoughts, saying Rodman’s “game-changing [capacity] is something she’s learning and she’s taking on.”

She changed the final game before the World Cup earlier this month. Making a run down the middle of the field, she was in perfect position to put away Sophia Smith’s cross. Moments later, she won the ball against a Welsh player and drove a shot from outside the penalty area into the top right corner of the net.

That performance further bolstered her case to start at least some of the World Cup games on a frontline led by Morgan and Smith but lacking a clear-cut third element following the loss of Mallory Swanson to a major knee injury in April.

“The second goal she scored,” Coach Vlatko Andonovski said of Rodman’s bending 20-yarder, “that’s a world-class goal.”

Anyone still looking at her first as Dennis Rodman’s daughter now see a woman continuing to etch a name of her own.

“It’s definitely ‘Trinity Rodman’ a lot of the time, more so than ‘Dennis Rodman’s daughter,’ ” she told ESPN’s “Fútbol Americas.” “But I haven’t accomplished nearly enough to have that name completely.”