Of all possible fates for Dennis Rodman in his 50s, saving the world wasn’t on my master list. Certainly, when I watched him get drunk every night and wear feather boas during the Jordan Era in Chicago, I did not anticipate him befriending a North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, who could nuke the planet when he pleases and recently ordered his uncle’s execution after he attempted to undercut Kim’s power. You could parole Charles Manson and every other serial killer, and it wouldn’t worry me as much as Rodman and Kim hanging in Pyongyang with a case of Bad Ass Vodka, Rodman’s personal vodka brand.
“Everyone knows Obama drinks beer,” Rodman said recently of the President of the United State, per the Associated Press. “But you know what? I’m pretty sure he does have a cocktail here or there. I’d love to see him with a ‘`Bad Ass Vodka’ shot in his hand, toasting to Kim Jong and me. That would be awesome.”
The President would rather not. He’s more concerned about the health of Kenneth Bae, the American missionary who purportedly committed “anti-state” crimes and is being held by Kim. Rodman, who thinks he can bring world peace by touring the planet with a team of renegade former NBA players, does not react well when asked about Bae and whether he might coax Kim into freeing him. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo inquired during a Tuesday interview from North Korea, where Dennis and his “Rod-men” say they are playing an exhibition game to celebrate Kim’s birthday, his reaction was disturbing and disjointed.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think. … One day this door is going to open because of these 10 guys here,” shouted Rodman, his voice cracking and emotionally near tears. “This is not about me. If I can open the door a little bit, just a little bit …
“No one in the world ever asks why we have the Olympics. There’s no problems. It’s all about the game.”
Kenneth Bae, Dennis. What have you said to Kim about Bae?
“The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing,” Rodman said. “If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did? In this country?”
Cuomo: “What did he do? You tell me.”
Rodman: “You tell me. You tell me. Why is he held captive?”
When he arrived in Pyongyang, Rodman was asked about the execution of Kim’s uncle. “I am not worried about his uncle,” he told reporters.
My God. Has the greatest pound-for-pound rebounder in basketball history become a sympathizer for North Korea, where Americans have been viewed as evil adversaries since the Korean War? Or is Rodman simply taking advantage of a bizarre opportunity to promote himself, which he somehow has done successfully for decades? He first visited the country for a TV documentary, and when he hit if off with Kim, who was a fan of Rodman and those Michael Jordan-led championship teams of the 1990s, he earned an open invitation to return.
Problem is, Rodman has access to Kim when Barack Obama has none, which makes the man-child called “Worm” more powerful in this scenario than the most powerful man in the free world. Kim seems to have brainwashed Rodman, which might be comical if not for the persistent nuclear threat at hand. Has it occurred to anyone what could happen if the minds of these two nutballs are interacting a little too much? “The marshal is actually trying to change this country in a great way,” Rodman said of Kim. “I think that people thought that this was a joke, and Dennis Rodman is just doing this because of fame and fortune.
“Just to even have us here, it’s an awesome feeling. I want these guys here to show the world, and speak about North Korea in a great light. I hope people will have a different view about North Korea.”
A different view of North Korea, brought to you by an alcoholic and troubled soul. Obviously, the White House is unnerved about all of this, failing in attempts to dissuade Rodman. As for NBA commissioner David Stern, his impending retirement can’t come soon enough when forced to address such matters. “The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman’s North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department,” Stern said in a statement. “Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them.”
Along with Rodman, 52, the barnstorming team includes the rag-tag likes of Vin Baker (alcoholism), Cliff Robinson (bankruptcy), Kenny Anderson (underachieving playground legend), Doug Christie (whose pants-in-the-house wife starred on the “Basketball Wives L.A.” reality series) and Craig Hodges (whose estranged wife once tried to light him on fire in a Chicago suburb). As the New York Times put it, “These are the unlikely emissaries who began arriving … for a bizarro version of basketball diplomacy with the mysterious North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un — a strange trip that has left the world’s diplomatic corps puzzled and, perhaps, a little jealous over the access the players may receive.”
Chances are, Kim Jong-un is playing a fun prank on the White House, with Rodman as his delusional prop. But I’ve also seen Rodman get people drunk. And there’s no telling how too many shots of Bad Ass Vodka might influence a madman with a nuke button.