Choking up often during an emotional speech, Rodman said his regret was not being a better father, and praised his coaches for being a father to him, after his own father left when he was a child and he never had a relationship with afterward.
The enshrinement of the flamboyant five-time champion capped the enshrinement of the 10-member class of 2011. Chris Mullin, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, opened the night as the other headliner.
Rodman wore two outfits to the event, but said his many looks were an "illusion" and that he loved "to just be an individual that's very colorful."
He thanked Commissioner David Stern and the NBA community "to even just have me in the building" and saved his deepest appreciation for coaches Phil Jackson and Chuck Daly, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, and James Rich, whose family took Rodman in after his mother threw him out of the house.
Rodman described them as men "you can call any time of day" who ignored his antics and "looked at an individual that had a good heart."
He apologized to his mother, who was in the crowd that didn't know quite what to expect from the always-entertaining Rodman but probably wasn't expecting to see such a look inside of him. He said he was like so many players who fought to get out the projects and make something of himself.
"I did that, but it took a lot of hard work and it took a lot of bumps along the road," Rodman said.
Mullin's journey began in New York.
A five-time All-Star with one of the game's best jump shots, he was enshrined last year with the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team and also won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
The left-hander followed a decorated amateur career by scoring more than 17,000 points in the NBA. The New York city product recalled his hometown in his speech, saying "Looking out, I realize I'm a long way from Flatbush Ave., but Brooklyn's definitely in the house tonight."
He stayed in New York to play in college at St. John's and was presented for enshrinement by his coach, Lou Carnesecca.
"I chose the best coach in the best city, and I played in the world's most famous arena," Mullin said.
The class also included coaches Tara VanDerveer, who has led Stanford to two national championships and won more than 800 games, Tex Winter and Division II Philadelphia University coach Herb Magee, the career leader at the collegiate level with more than 900 wins.
Eight-time NBA champion Tom "Satch" Sanders, big men Artis Gilmore and Arvydas Sabonis; the late Reece "Goose" Tatum of the Harlem Globetrotters, and women's star Teresa Edwards, who won five Olympic medals - four golds - and is entering her fifth Hall of Fame, also were to be honored at Symphony Hall.
VanDerveer called her enshrinement an "exciting homecoming for my mother, Rita," because her parents met at Springfield College. She ignored her father's pleas to focus on her algebra homework instead of basketball, learning from whatever coaches she could and going on to win a gold medal coaching the 1996 U.S. women's Olympic team.
"Thank you, Hall of Fame, for honoring my life's work," she said. "I'm forever grateful."
The induction of Rodman and Winter, the architect of the triangle offense, brought back Scottie Pippen and other players and coaches from the Bulls' dynasty of the 1990s. Winter, an assistant to Jackson on nine NBA championship teams, has been slowed after a stroke and struggles with his speaking, but felt well enough to make the trip for the weekend and what many considered overdue enshrinement.
"We're really excited for him. I know he is to. He's very happy about it," Jackson said. "He's been jumping the gun all night and all day yesterday, so I think it's a good time for him to do it, even though I wish he could express himself and say what he really has on his mind."
Sabonis, a dominant player in Europe long before he finally came from his native Lithuania to the NBA at 31, was presented by Bill Walton, who had described the versatile center as a "7-foot-3 Larry Bird." Later came the enshrinement of Gilmore, an ABA champion who went on to make six All-Star teams in the NBA, where he is still the league's career leader with a .599 field-goal percentage.
"Millions of people have laced up their sneakers since Dr. Naismith invented the game several miles from here in 1891 and every one of them would love to be in my shoes today," Gilmore said.