Height: 7’1” Weight: 235-275lbs.
Born on 16 June 1955 in Winter Haven, Florida.
Before Dikembe Mutombo waived his finger to signal rejection. Before Dennis Rodman’s bad boy image and physical tenacious presence hounded opposing players. Before lists of dirty players became published. Before altercations and fisticuffs became something of a media sensation (Malice in the Palace, Melo’s dainty backhand slap). Before these players and incidents there was one man who embodied all of the above traits and characteristics. Tree Rollins’ presence intimidated some and emboldened others. His defensive presence patrolling the paint from the late 1970s until his retirement in 1995 effected the shots and decision making process of countless players. Some dared not to enter his paint for fear of their shot being sent back quicker than it had been put up. Others felt a personal challenge when playing against Rollins. He couldn’t block everything. Michael Jordan ruthlessly proved that when he famously posterized Tree. Jordan had a singular knack for dunking on great shot blockers.
Wayne Monte Rollins is a Clemson legend. Unlike today’s players who attend college for one year before they make the jump to the NBA, Rollins spent four years at Clemson learning the game and breaking school records. Rollins was a three time second team All-ACC team selection and a third team All-American his senior season in 1976-77 making him the first Clemson Tiger (in basketball) to ever be selected to the All-American team. In each of his four seasons, Rollins averaged a double-double. He is the only player in the school’s history to have done so and is ranked fourth all time in the category at Clemson. He is one of two players to ever record a triple-double in school history. Rollins swatted 450 shots while with the Tigers which ranks him third in ACC history. The 1,311 rebounds he pulled down over his career still top Clemson’s records and are still good enough for fifth all time in the ACC. Just before his last home game as a Tiger, his number was retired making him the first athlete in school history to have such an honor bestowed up on them.
However, Tree Rollins’ time at Clemson was not without controversy. While being recruited by Clemson and then Head Coach Taylor Locke, Rollins was rumored to have accepted various gifts and money outside of NCAA regulations from the school. He, of course, denies those allegations. The school was put on a three year probation beginning, prompting Locke to quit, in 1975 after the school was charged with violating 40 NCAA rules and regulations. A touch controversy would seem to linger just behind Rollins throughout his career.
After graduating from Clemson, Rollins was taken fourteenth overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1977 NBA draft. “The Intimidator,” has he became known, quickly made his presence felt on the league and especially on the defensive end of the floor. During the 1982-83 season, Rollins led all players with an astounding 343 total blocks. This achievement helped Rollins become a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team that season. The following season, he was a member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He was in the top three in blocks six times during his career. His physical style of play, however, rubbed many opposing players the wrong way.
Rollins was well known for his excessive use of his elbows, while setting screens and pulling down rebounds, during games. Altercations were never far behind. In 1982 Rollins was fined $2500 for excessive violence in a first round playoff game with the Philadelphia 76ers. This violence was directed especially toward the 76ers’ players Darryl Dawkins and Lionel Hollins. Hollins was fined $2000 for a retaliatory blow to Rollins’ head after the initial incident. The next year during the playoffs, Rollins was again involved in an altercation. In a 1983 first round playoff series with the Boston Celtics, Tree elbowed Celtic’s guard Danny Ainge while setting a screen. To say that Ainge did not take kindly to this would be an understatement. Ainge responded by tackling Rollins on the spot and a fracas ensued. During the melee, Tree bit Danny Ainge. Ainge wound up having to get a tetanus shot two stitches on his middle finger because of Tree’s bite. The Boston Globe ran an article about the game the next day entitled Tree bites man in Celtic’s clincher. The story also nicknamed Rollins, “Tree (hide the finger sandwiches) Rollins”. Ah, northern wit, the envy of the comedic spectrum. Rollins was apparently not in favor with Celtics players in the least. He also was in an on court incident with M.L. Carr which spilled off the court. After the game Carr confronted Rollins in the locker room tunnel about the incident. Carr was holding something in his hand which led to Rollins accusing Carr of brandishing a straight edge razor. It is now known that Carr carried a gun with him to and from the Garden for much of his career, so Rollins, during this incident should consider himself lucky that was only faced with a set of keys or straight razor, depending on who tells the story.
After leaving the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent in 1988, Rollins would bounce around to several teams searching for that elusive championship. He would play for the Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, and Magic before his retirement in 1995. At the time of his retirement, he was fourth all time in the NBA in blocked shots, with 2,542, behind Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Mark Eaton. Currently, Rollins total ranks ninth all time in the NBA. After the NBA, Rollins had a short stint as head coach of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. At the time he had the best record as coach of the team in their short existence to that point.
Before the bad boys in Detroit ruffed up their opponents with stifling defense, Tree Rollins, and his elbows, roughed up many players who dared challenge his paint and authority of the game. Rollins would actually become a crucial member of the Pistons just after their championship runs in 1989 and 1990. He carried on the big man defensive presence that was established by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain before him. He was the bridge to the big men of the 1990s and today and will be remembered for his dominant defense.