Watching Dennis Rodman walk through the Singapore airport with a group of reporters, photographers and cameramen in tow brought a tear to the eye for some of us in the Chicago media. The emotion had nothing to do with the possibility of North Korean denuclearization or improved prospects of world peace.
It brought back “fond’’ memories of what we sportswriters called the Walk of Shame during the Bulls’ second three-peat. That entailed trying to interview Rodman after a game as he walked from the locker room to the exit. Walking – rather than standing and answering questions like every other athlete ever – was a strategy his handlers had come up with to give his interviews the feel of a red-carpet frenzy. Rodman wanted it all, including Hollywood. We just wanted a quote about his two points and 18 rebounds that night.
Rodman was still walking and talking Tuesday, with a media horde jostling around him in Singapore. That he has somehow injected himself into the North Korea story is old news. Rodman and dictator Kim Jong Un are buddies, thanks to a trip the Basketball Hall of Famer made to North Korea in 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters. He has called Kim “a friend for life’’ and once sang “Happy Birthday’’ to the leader, whom he described as “a very good guy.’’ Pay no attention to the widespread starvation, the labor camps or the fact that Kim had his uncle executed for treason, Dennis.
You can either be baffled by the friendship between Rodman and Kim or you can celebrate life’s rich pageant. I remain on the side of bafflement.
Still, is it possible that Rodman has shaped Kim’s view of the United States, leading to some of the thaw that took place between the countries at last week’s Singapore summit? I find this hard to believe, but it is possible. If the Mao-suit-wearing Kim acquired his view of America from a man who once graced the cover of Brides magazine in a wedding dress, then so be it. Whatever it takes to try to make the world a safer place. But if Kim thinks Steven Seagal would ever wear chiffon, he has sorely miscalculated what makes America great.
There’s nothing shocking about Rodman anymore, certainly not in the way there was in the 1990s. Back then, America seemed both repulsed and drawn to him. Even the hip NBA was taken aback by his tattoos, body piercings, dyed hair and cross-dressing. Now your grandfather has piercings, even if you wish he didn’t. But in buttoned- and locked-down North Korea, Rodman must look like a purple Ferrari in a sea of bicycles.
It’s impressive how Rodman has managed to keep himself in the public eye for so long. When he realized that his nose ring wasn’t getting as many double takes as it used to, he apparently said to himself: “How can I stay relevant, besides by getting arrested? Why, I’ll attach myself to the hermit kingdom and its enigmatic leader! Of course!’’ He has made four trips to North Korea, all, he said, in the hopes of spreading the gospel of peace through basketball. He might even have helped gain the release of an American missionary who had been held on charges of anti-state crimes. It probably should be mentioned that, at one point, Rodman suggested the missionary deserved to be detained. Hey, life is messy.
If Rodman is what’s missing in diplomacy, then it would seem the world took a strange turn somewhere along the way. On the other hand, maybe he’s the person to get Russia to stop meddling in our elections. In the meantime, I’d suggest you and three of your buddies buy Kim, Rodman, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin masks for Halloween and prepare for the ensuing hilarity.
I laugh because I don’t know what else to do. It’s bizarre that Rodman might have been involved even tangentially in making last week’s summit between Trump and Kim happen, yet there he was in Singapore, working his way through the stop-and-go traffic of media people.
“I think that I brought awareness to a lot of things around the world, and I think North Korea gave a lot of people opportunity to do this conference now, and I hope it’s a success,’’ he said when asked Tuesday about his role in making the meeting happen.
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Twenty years ago, I was assigned to write a Rodman story after a Bulls playoff game. Here he came out of the locker room. I resolutely held my position in the moving madness. I was writing down something he said, when, against all Walk of Shame rules, he decided to stop. And because I was behind him while looking at my notebook, I smacked face-first into his leather-vested back and bounced off him like a ball off a Day-Glo wall. Textbook blocking out by Dennis the Menace.
Years later, he would turn out to be, in the jargon of hoops, a facilitator, too. Who could have seen that coming? Or wanted to?
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.