Dennis Rodman with former agent Dwight Manley
When the Chicago Bulls were atop the sporting world in the 1990s, winning six NBA titles in eight years, Michael Jordan was represented by David Falk, the sports-agent equivalent of His Airness. Falk represented as many as 40 players at the time. Meanwhile, Jordan’s iconoclastic teammate Dennis Rodman, a pillar for the team’s second three-peat, made a different choice. He hired a world-renowned coin collector from Orange County, Calif., named Dwight Manley to represent him.
Rodman may have been the NBA’s most mercurial figure, but there was a good reason why he chose to work with Manley. The noted numismatist (the term for the coin and medal enthusiasts) may not have represented any other big-name athletes, but he had earned Rodman’s friendship and trust in the years since they had first crossed paths in Las Vegas in the early ’90s. Plus, as Manley put it, “It just seemed like whenever I was around him—whenever he was staying at the house—I found things that made him money off the court.”
Rodman’s incredibly successful three-year run in Chicago, in which the Bulls won three titles and the power forward led the league in rebounds each season, is once again in the spotlight due to ESPN’s 10-part documentary The Last Dance. And the 54-year-old Manley, who was right there with his friend rubbing shoulders with Bulls superfans like Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan, hopes the docuseries will remind everyone just how big of a deal those Bull teams were. The coin collector and agent recently spoke to Robb Report about his life’s passion, his new prized coin collection and what it was like to represent Dennis Rodman during the Bull’s dominance.
How long have you been collecting coins?
Since I was six. Actively.
Have you ever drifted away?
Never [laughs]. There’s something transcendental about having an old coin in your hand. It takes you back to then, what was happening and what things were worth and what the world was like. They’re little time capsules. I have them all over my desk or my office. I have [coins] all over the place because I love them. They’re like little windows into the past.
You recently acquired one of the great collections of Washingtoniana, the William Spohn Baker Collection, at auction. What drew you to it?
Well, first being a coin collector, second because I collect things from George Washington. When he was alive and from his funeral. It was such a big event, so there’s some really cool medals and things that were made to commemorate that and that people wore to the funeral. So, I had those items and some were super rare. Then this collection came along and [is] sort of revered as the best, ultimate collection of Washingtoniana. A book had been written about it, with all the items listed. Things like that don’t just come along . . . So, I said, okay, I want to buy some key items, and one thing led to another, and as the sale was playing out, it didn’t seem to have like any of the so-called billionaires that buy these different things and donate them to museums. So I just decided—probably 50 lots into it—I was going to try and buy as much as I could.
What were some of the items you were eyeing going into the sale?
I really liked the two-pattern half-dollars. So, the US Mint was founded in 1792 and issued the coinage officially in 1793. The two 1792-pattern half-dollars that had Washington on them—they’re technically coins, pattern coins versus being metal. As a coin collector, I really liked those, and there’s only a few known of each. The slave token, the emancipation for Henry Clarck, things like that. That’s obviously unique to that person. That in itself is a collectible thing.
What about the emancipation medal sticks out to you?
That transcends coin collecting . . . That’s a patriotic thing, something about good winning out over bad. That was literally someone’s freedom in your hand. That’s more than just buying something. That’s your life. They didn’t have driver’s licenses, but that was somebody’s life. I think that’s pretty important.
You intend to make the collection accessible to the public, right?
Yes, I contacted the American Numismatic Association, and they’re going to do an exhibition in 2021, which I am going to help underwrite for them. And ultimately it either tours from there or has a permanent home somewhere in a museum. I don’t ever see myself selling it and having it be a for-profit event. It would be just as wrong for me to break it up or sell it, as I think it was for the museum to do that.
So, how did you go from being a coin collector to being Dennis Rodman’s agent?
I think there’s a similarity to buying and selling rare coins. Identifying something as a hidden gem and figuring out who needs it or wants it for the most money. With an athlete I see a lot of similarities in that. And I see Dennis, when I met him originally, when he had black hair and was a Piston, was like that. He was obviously scouted and on a team and playing on the highest level. But he still had so much more. The first thing I did for him was get him that book deal, and that became huge. As a platform, I think the published written word is still the most powerful thing to go in any direction you want.
We met in ’93. [In] July 10, 1995, he was supposed to come for a few days to Orange County to stay at my house and then he never left.
How did you guys meet in the first place?
I was having dinner at the Mirage, and the host said do you want to meet Dennis Rodman . . . And then, after dinner, I said hello [and] played craps with him. After half an hour, I said nice to meet you and left. I went back [to Vegas] a week later for a bachelor party, and I walk right into him again. And I’m like, what are you doing here. And he says, oh, I didn’t leave. That’s weird, but I said, I’m going to George Carlin tonight, you want to go? Yes. So he comes with me. Next day, you want to come to the pool? Yeah. Next day going to Laughlin for this bachelor party, you wanna go? Yeah. And so we became friends, exchanged phone numbers. Then he got traded to San Antonio. He would come stay at the house in Orange County. I would take him to my golf club. Got him clubs. He had a really great swing and he’d never golfed. He’s a natural stud athlete.
So, you went from hanging out in Vegas with Dennis to representing him. How does that happen?
[We] were just were friends for a couple of years, and then in the Spurs playoffs in ’95, [journalist] Mike Silver had been sent there for Sports Illustrated for the article that ended up having that parakeet and he was in black leather on the cover. So, it was in May, and it was right before his birthday. I was hanging out there, at his house, having flown in from a coin show actually, in Atlanta, and I said, let’s go to Vegas. He says okay, so we all flew there and took Mike Silver with us and [Spurs center] Jack Haley. Had a great time, then at 5:30 in the morning, Jack Haley and me are sleeping in the same bed, the phone rings and it’s [Spurs coach] Bob Hill. Get back here. You’re in trouble, Dennis, blah blah blah. So I put Mike Silver on the plane with Dennis and said, just talk to him the whole time, you’ll be one-on-one. That article and that issue became huge. That’s what I used to get the book deal [for Walk on the Wild Side]. And it just put me in the middle of stuff. It expanded his exposure in a different way, the non-basketball. I got him a Madame Cleo’s Psychic Hotline, 40 grand to shoot at the Viper Room. And I got him stock options for it, which made him a couple hundred grand more. It just seemed like whenever I was around him, whenever he was staying at the house, I found things that made him money off the court.
Did being Dennis’s friend make it easier for you to see this side of him that others weren’t aware of?
For sure. Absolutely. Behind the scenes, real person, he is a big, lovable kid.
Are you still in touch?
He’s been over twice in the last five days.
How is he reacting to being back in the spotlight?
I think he feels very good about it. I got a call two days ago from Jesse Jackson; he wanted to talk to Dennis. Then we were having a three-way call and Jesse said, look, Michael and Phil have said you are the reason this all happened. And they want to get you your due. It’s elevated. Actually, it’s expanded the amount of people that now know what insiders already did know.
So, what exactly happened on the infamous Las Vegas vacation in the middle of that last season in Chicago. Were you there?
Of course [laughs]. But that was the All-Star break. They’re telling this story in a slanted way. He didn’t go six days in the middle of the season they were playing and he wasn’t. It was the All-Star break, and he didn’t get on the team so that’s what we did. He wasn’t late coming home. Everybody has a different [perspective]. It’s hard to remember everything perfectly.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time representing Dennis?
Well, the most emotional was that Eddie Vedder called the other day. We were sitting in the backyard on the video chat or something. He had a Hi8 camera that he would use to film when we went to the playoffs that year. He and I would go to most of the games together. He was filming when they won in ’96. I started crying a lot because it was so emotional that he wasn’t going to be basically fired. It was made very clear, all through that first season, if they didn’t win, he wasn’t coming back . . . That was just clear. It wasn’t about the money. Once we went through the first season, it was such a good fit for him . . . So, when they won it was an unbelievable feeling.
What do you think that people get wrong about Dennis?
There are few people you come across in the world that are larger than life. Don King, he’s one of those types of people. Jesse Jackson is that way. Dennis is that way. It transcends the sport . . . You have to remember, when they were doing this, Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un’s dad or Gaddafi—they stopped what they were doing [to watch the Bulls]. That’s a crazy phenomenon. You can watch Steph Curry or Michael Jordan do the statistical part of it, the points, right? But Dennis was doing things that they don’t have stats for. Phil calls him the Backwards Walking Indian and all that. You were watching something that was incongruous and congruous at the same time. It’s like art. I don’t know how you quantify it, but I’ve not seen anyone else ever do that.
Final question: Do you have any advice for young collectors beginning to explore the world of coins?
I would give the same advice I was given: “Buy the book before the coin.” There is nothing better than knowledge about that which one is interested in, whether to collect, or as a career, and learning about it is what makes the adventure all the more enjoyable.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.