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Dennis Rodman: From Basketball Bad Boy to Dubious Diplomat

Dennis Keith Rodman, grinning and crumpled in a cramped lawn chair, flicks a half-smoked Romeo y Julieta cigar and declares that if it were possible, he'd fuck the world. He's drunk on Estonian vodka and plans to get drunker. He laughs maniacally, and his thoughts are scattershot: In a matter of minutes, conversation hops from Indonesia to blowjobs in Milwaukee to the merits of a home improvement shop on Oakland Park Boulevard — possibly Lowe's; Rodman isn't specific. It's a Thursday afternoon, and the immediate environment, a lushly decayed backyard off Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, has begun to spin something fierce. He grips the sides of the lawn chair.

"Listen to this music," the 51-year-old says. Pearl Jam's 1998 hit "Wishlist" plays on a nearby Android phone, and Rodman grooves to it, strumming an air guitar. "Eddie Vedder is an entrepreneur of love. Me and Eddie's favorite thing to talk about is life. But for me, it's not fun. It's difficult. Every day is difficult."

Gathered around the table are three strangers, who murmur agreement. First there's the blond Miami drag queen Elaine Lancaster, who owns the place and says the former Chicago Bulls star is in South Florida for her. Then there's the barrel-chested and dreadlocked Mike Bradley, who speaks in a deep and resonant timbre and says he "just clicks" with Rodman. And finally, there's Trishy Trish. She's petite and sandy-haired, with small, sad eyes. No one is quite sure where Trishy Trish comes from, her occupation, or her real name. To Rodman, she has one main responsibility: to provide constant companionship. He calls her at all hours, and when she picks up, Rodman sometimes doesn't say a word. He just listens.

Rodman is now discussing how MySpace came into existence. "My friend owned MySpace, right. He sold it for $500 million to Fox [Broadcasting], right. Then Fox sold it and made $11 billion. So my friend looked at me and said one thing: 'Fuck.' That's all he said: 'Fuck.' "

Rodman's throat clenches with empathy, and for a moment, he cannot speak. Trishy Trish, sipping vodka and smoking a Parliament menthol, coos encouragement. The drag queen follows suit, calling him "Baby."  "I get emotional," Rodman confesses, and everyone nods. "And it sucks. Steve Jobs was a sick man. He was sick. And he came back and made Apple again. He did everything for Apple. And I think, When you achieve a lot of shit in life, what's left?... Drinking and fucking girls. I like that shit. I do it every goddamn day. That's my job."

An hour later, the liter of Estonian vodka is nearly gone. In the failing light, Rodman sits motionless, long legs crossed, and tugs at his clothing. He wears a brown and purple plaid shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a white wifebeater stretched across his taut frame. A glittered baseball cap glows atop his shortly cropped hair, which is flecked with gray. The air is clouded with smoke from another freshly lit Romeo y Julieta. A fresh stogie rests on the table, and a drink sloshes in Rodman's glass. He has time to talk.

"Do your job," he abruptly tells Trishy Trish.

"What's my job?" the 41-year-old asks.

"To be stupid!" he bellows and doubles over laughing. His entourage joins in. "Whoo!" Rodman yells, howling along with Eddie Vedder in the song "Dissident." "There you go! C'mon! This is awesome!"

Rodman and Bradley sink into a conversation concerning Rodman's children. "It's my son's birthday today, and I missed it," Rodman whispers with sudden melancholy. "For the last five years, I've missed it. It sucks. He's my smallest son. My kids don't give a shit, but I do. They hate me because of who I am."

At this moment, weeks after he became the first American to publicly meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — whom he declared a "friend for life" — a lot of people hate Dennis Rodman. Before and after a disastrous interview with newscaster George Stephanopoulos, in which the NBA Hall of Famer effusively praised the autocrat, criticism rained down.

"Rodman's pal sends three generations of prisoners' families to die in concentration camps," Anderson Cooper tweeted. "Wake up, Rodman!"

The New York Times called Rodman's exploits "reckless behavior." In an interview with NBC News, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player. And as a diplomat, he is a great basketball player."

It went from bad to worse. In March, Kim Jong Un threatened to turn Washington, D.C., into a "sea of fire." Vowing to send his enemies "to the bottom of the sea as they run wild like wolves," the young leader warned that Guam, an American territory, was within striking distance. Soon after, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea presented a "real and clear danger" and deployed missile defenses to the American island fewer than 2,100 miles from Pyongyang.

Americans sought explanation for the sudden bellicosity, and some had an answer: Dennis Rodman, the unofficial "U.S. ambassador to North Korea." Rodman's Twitter feed exploded with animosity — "Dennis Rodman Sparks Nuclear Holocaust #futureheadlines" — and in the span of one month, he'd gone from a washed-up hoops star haunting Hallandale Beach strip clubs to the most controversial athlete on the planet. He surfed the international current to the Vatican in a failed campaign to elect a black pope and rode — yes — an ersatz popemobile.

His confounding resurgence represents yet one more Rodman rebound in a life full of them. He's conquered extreme poverty, crippling insecurity, NBA giants, and American pop culture. He's married model after model, dyed his hair neon colors, and worn a wedding dress to a book signing (where he married himself). But now, as Rodman settles again into obscurity, the question is: What the hell's next?

Dennis Rodman and a 13-year-old suburban white kid named Peter Ginopolis jostled a small TV set inside a New York City hotel room and hollered at the screen. They clutched Nintendo controllers, sticky with palm sweat. It was 1987, Rodman's second year in the NBA. He was 25 years old, making $160,000 in salary, and bereft of tattoos, earrings, and attitude — just another benchwarmer on the championship-bound Detroit Pistons. Earlier that day, the Pistons had defeated the Knicks, and some of his teammates had gone clubbing. But Rodman abhorred drinking and clammed up around strangers.

So he and Ginopolis, the Pistons' dark-haired ball boy, plowed through a pizza and played Nintendo, which Rodman took with him to every away game. "He was really, really good," says Ginopolis, today a private wealth manager near Detroit. "But it was like I was dealing with someone who was 13 years old. It was so weird; here I am this young kid, and my best friend is this NBA player who loves doing what I do."

But the childlike exuberance belied a profound sadness rooted in Rodman's past. Growing up the oldest child in a fatherless apartment in a Dallas housing project called Oak Cliff, he suffered relentless schoolyard taunts. He was a homely child. His ears stuck out, and his body slithered back and forth when he played pinball, earning him the moniker "Worm," which has stuck with him since. When Rodman was still a boy, his dad, Philander Rodman, abandoned the family; he went on to father 29 children and live in the Philippines. "I was 28, with three kids, working three to four jobs," Rodman's mother, Shirley, tells New Times. "And my husband just threw us aside. Dennis never understood I'm only one person. I had to be both a mom and a dad. And I did the best I could."

For Rodman, that wasn't good enough. She was austere and unloving, he says. Rodman's first wife, Annie Rodman, agrees: "She put him down a lot. She never gave him praise. I have nothing good to say about Dennis' mother... She just wasn't a good mom."

Then came the first of many miracles. Dennis was 19 years old, five-foot-11, and pushing a broom at the Dallas airport when he sprouted nine inches in a little more than a year. Shirley Rodman, a devout Christian, perceived God's hand. What else could explain it?

"It scared him, and it scared me," recalls Shirley, now 73 and still living in Dallas. "Nobody could understand that kind of growth. Afterward, Dennis just withdrew. He was an introvert and just so horribly, horribly shy. He was always an overly sensitive man, and back then, he wanted to have a different personality... He lived in a fantasy world."

Basketball, at least for a time, fulfilled that fantasy. Though he had never played on his high school's varsity team, there was still a possibility he could compete in college. Standing six-foot-eight, he squeaked onto the squad at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, nestled in Durant, then a rural, backward town of 6,000 inhabitants. "They'd tell me: 'Get your black ass out of here,' or 'Go back to Africa, nigger,' " he wrote in his 1996 book, Bad as I Wanna Be.

Rodman remolded himself, earned a reputation as a workout fanatic, and netted accolade after accolade, bringing in three consecutive All-American nods at Southeastern. But he sank deeper into reserve. While his mother fretted over what that meant, the scouts saw only raw talent. In 1986, the Pistons snapped him up, selecting him with the 27th overall pick.

"Then everything changed," Shirley Rodman says.

Rodman's NBA career followed the same pattern as his dramatic growth. His first season was slow. He averaged only 6.5 points and four rebounds per game. He also disappointed in the second season. But then came a meteoric transition. In his fourth and fifth years, he won the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award. In his sixth and seventh seasons, his rebound average exploded to more than 18 per game.

Rodman perfected the craft of rebounding. Lighter and several inches shorter than most men working the boards, he didn't use brute force to pile on the numbers. "What people don't remember about Dennis is how smart he was," says best friend Floyd Raglin, who manages a Miami Beach sports marketing firm. "He could hear the ping off the rim and know exactly where that ball was gonna drop."

One night soon after, however, Rodman's depression caught up with him. On an April night in 1993, he parked his pickup truck at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons played. He cradled a rifle for hours, he writes in Bad as I Wanna Be, contemplating whether to pull the trigger. In a sense, he did. When Rodman emerged in the early morning, he says, he'd murdered his shyness.

Though perhaps apocryphal, the tale explains a dramatic metamorphosis. His marriage to Annie had collapsed — "cheating," she says — and Rodman demanded a trade, landing with the San Antonio Spurs, where his hair took on the hues of snow cones. He went on to play with the Chicago Bulls, winning three championships with Michael Jordan. In the Windy City, Rodman was all braggadocio: a fixture at late-night parties studded with stars. He dated Madonna for two months and married Baywatch star Carmen Electra for six. He pierced his face. He became someone else entirely.

Some friends and relatives say this transformation represents the tragedy of Dennis Rodman. They loved his gentleness. "[He was] innocent, shy, cute," says Annie Rodman, today a corrections officer living outside Sacramento. "Deep down [what he has become] isn't him, but fame is the devil to him. He's been swallowed up by it."

Something else also swallowed Rodman. "It's like The Nutty Professor," says Gigi Peterson, a raven-haired beauty and Rodman's longtime girlfriend. "Professor Klump was an introvert and felt unworthy. Then he invented this potion to make him thin, and Buddy Love came to town. For Dennis, alcohol is that potion. And Buddy Love can go to hell. Because one day soon, Buddy Love will kill Professor Klump."

The year before Dennis Rodman agreed to go to North Korea, he spent afternoons presiding over a half-empty Cheetah Gentlemen's Club off Hallandale Beach Boulevard. There, he'd wedge a Romeo y Julieta between his long fingers, tilt back a tumbler of vodka or Jägermeister, and deploy one of three often-used phrases to whomever came within orbit. "Do one thing." "Love is good." "Do your job."

A typical Rodman binge lasts three manic days, says Trishy Trish, who says she spends almost every night with him. (It's unclear when Rodman has time to squeeze in Peterson and other paramours.) The two met in 2011. "We had sex the first night," she says. Ever since, their antics have become routine: With Trishy Trish in tow, Rodman goes to Grand Lux Café outside Aventura Mall, where he sits in sunglasses dark as the abyss and heckles patrons. Or they're off to Ocean Manor on Galt Ocean Drive in Fort Lauderdale before settling once more at Cheetah. Afterward, in the morning light, Rodman perches outside a Starbucks at 191st Street and Biscayne Boulevard and lights a fresh stogie. "He comes early," a pretty Starbucks barista says. "And he's usually drunk."

"We go to, like, five places and that's it," explains Trishy Trish, wearing a jean skirt and tank top on a recent afternoon of vodka sodas and Camel menthols at O'Malley's Ocean Pub on Hollywood Beach. "We like to stay local."

After a night of partying, Rodman hits the gym for "detox," she says. He almost exclusively attends Equinox, a workout facility on the third floor of Aventura Mall, and does pushups in the sauna for hours. Only then, after he's sweated out all the booze, can Rodman rest at his Aventura condo, Trishy Trish says. "After I make a big old dinner, we sleep for days. The television is always on. He's sober for days. But then he starts looking out the windows and gets cabin fever. And once he's out again, he starts drinking. What else is there really to do?"

This frenzied lifestyle has come at a cost. Rodman's 24-year-old daughter, Alexis, has only recently patched up her relationship with him. She says other children teased her about Rodman's eccentricities when she was young. From age 10 to 19, she didn't speak to him. "I had to grow a thick skin, and I didn't want people to feel bad for me. But I got a lot of negative things growing up."

Today, Rodman rarely sees any of his four children. This past December, an Orange County judge ordered him to pay $500,000 in support to ex-wife Michelle Rodman of Costa Mesa, California — even threatening jail, according to the Los Angeles Times. His attorney, Linnea Willis, tells New Times Rodman is now making his payments to Michelle and their two children. "I'm not saying he never paid [his child support]," she says. "But he made a lot of those payments, just not through child services." In court documents, Willis said Rodman was "extremely sick," had diminishing ­marketability, and "cannot afford additional fees," the Los Angeles Times reported.

For years, Rodman owed $50,000 every month in child support, according to court filings in Broward County. "But that's 50 grand, and even during someone's best days, who can pay that much money?" says Vanessa Prieto, Rodman's Fort Lauderdale attorney. "Now he pays $3,500 per month."

The drama pummeled Rodman. At his 2012 Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he openly wept. "I have one regret," he said, voice guttural and pained. "I wish I was a better father."

"He used to cry every night we'd go out," says Trishy Trish, who cares for him deeply, though they have a combustible relationship. "Anything can make him cry, but it's usually always about his kids. It's like he doesn't realize he's not the only one with a fucked-up past." His vulnerability, however, has made for great television. Producers have continually slotted him on the reality-show circuit, and in the past decade he's appeared on Celebrity Rehab, Celebrity Apprentice, and Celebrity Mole, where he won $220,000 in 2004. Indeed, no job has been too small for Rodman: He flew to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, earlier this year to guest-star on that country's incarnation of Mole.

But then came yet another reinvention of Dennis Rodman.

Vice Media, a Brooklyn-based company that publishes the magazine Vice, wanted to fly Michael Jordan to North Korea to promote what it called "basketball diplomacy." (Kim Jong Un's mercurial father, Kim Jong Il, was a big NBA fan during his days at the nation's helm. According to a 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune exposé, the elder Kim, like many Americans, wanted to be like Mike. The five-foot-three dictator built NBA-regulation-size courts in every palace, plopped a Michael Jordan-signed basketball in a glass case at his Museum of International Understanding, and invited His Airness to Pyongyang in the mid-1990s. He declined.)

And he did this time too. So Shane Smith, cofounder of Vice Media, called Rodman. The plan was apparently to send Rodman and three Harlem Globetrotters to Pyongyang, where the newly minted dictator would, perhaps, open up.

Rodman didn't speak with New Times about his North Korea visit beyond calling himself a "peacemaker." But his best buddy, Floyd Raglin, remembers all the details. Raglin first met Rodman 30 years ago and is considered the one in the entourage who knows him best. Before Rodman left for North Korea, he called Raglin, a blue-eyed and powerfully built former Miami Dolphin. "He had no idea who Kim Jong Un was," Raglin recalls. "He just thought he was going to play basketball with the Globetrotters."

The last week in February, Rodman boarded a plane cluttered with luggage, dozens of North Koreans, and the Globetrotters. Twenty-four hours later, wearing cobalt-blue sweatpants and a Polo Ralph Lauren hat, he landed at the Pyongyang airport. "It's my first time, and I think it's most of these guys' first time here," Rodman told the Associated Press amid a bedlam of flashing cameras and giggling North Korean dignitaries. "So hopefully everything's going to be OK."

While staying at the Koryo Hotel — the nicest accommodations in Pyongyang — he called Gigi Peterson. "He said he'd chosen not to play basketball, period," she says. "So when he went back to his room, he went to sleep. Then, in the middle of the night, he got a knock at the door, and when he answered it, there were guards, and they were armed. His first thought was, Oh, fuck. I'm going to be arrested for not playing! But he was only being summoned to see little Kim."

The next day, Rodman donned black clothes and a dark pair of shades. As the Globetrotters played, he eased into a red-cushioned chair beside one of the world's most mysterious leaders in one of its most totalitarian countries. As the audience cheered, the two men made friends.

The state-controlled Korean Central News Agency reported the scene thusly: "Rodman said with excitement that he found his impressive Pyongyang visit quite satisfactory. He added that Korean people are his friends and, in particular, he considers Marshal Kim Jong Un a close friend."

The afterparty unfurled that night inside a white banquet hall, where Rodman, wearing a pink tie, joked with Kim Jong Un through an interpreter as if they were bowling buddies. Rodman guzzled expensive booze as if it were Gatorade. At one point during the meal, he bent way down and hugged the autocrat.

When Rodman left the reclusive nation soon after that dinner, he had no idea what awaited him.

"When you said you loved Kim and think he's awesome, were [you] aware of his threats on the United States and his regime's horrendous record on human rights?" newscaster George Stephanopoulos asked.

It was the morning of March 3, the Sunday after Rodman had returned, and in the bright lights of the ABC studio in New York City, the athlete turned wan. ("He was blitzed — absolutely fucking blitzed," says AJ Bright, one of Rodman's advisers. "We wondered whether we should cancel, but decided to let him go on. He had no business being on a political show.")

Wearing a lavender scarf and a blazer printed with dollar signs, Rodman pressed his hands together. "He doesn't want war," Rodman sputtered.

"He said he wants to destroy the United States," Stephanopoulos pressed, expression severe.

"He loves power," Rodman explained. "He loves control because of his, uh, you know, his dad. But he's a great guy. Just a great guy."

"A great guy who puts 200,000 people in prison camps?"

"Guess what, we have presidents who do the same thing, right," Rodman parried. "It's amazing how Bill Clinton can have sex with his secretary and do one thing and still be powerful."

"How can you compare that to prison camps?"

"Prison camps do one thing," Rodman replied quickly. "We don't need to do one thing. We do one thing. Kim's a friend to me. I'm going to go back and do one thing: find out more about what's really going on."

"Next time you go back, you should bring this report from Human Rights Watch" about North Korea, Stephanopoulos said, pushing paper at Rodman. "Ask some questions about that. You might learn a lot more."

Rodman laughed. "Either way, do one thing: Don't hate me. Don't hate me."

That day, Rodman's schedule had been booked with national interviews, Bright said. They were all canceled.

Days passed. Things got weirder. As the world's eyes turned toward the Vatican in mid-March, Rodman, wearing a flower-print blazer, suddenly materialized in Saint Peter's Square. As cardinals from around the globe pondered who would follow Pope Benedict, Rodman was ostensibly advocating for a black pope. But when the Associated Press asked him about Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, Rodman was perplexed. "From Africa, right?" he asked. Rodman's Irish sponsor, Paddy Power, had arranged for him to ride through town in a Mercedes popemobile. (The vehicle was delayed by snow in Northern Italy, so Rodman rode it a day later than planned.)

When Rodman arrived home from his adventures, he was exhausted and didn't want to see anyone, his friend Bright says. Only his daughter Alexis, who visited him that week, got any time with the athlete. "He's completely different when he's not in public," she says. "He's normal. It's a beautiful thing... But he's built up a tower of drinking and craziness, and it's so high that now he can't come down."

On a Thursday afternoon soon after, the Miami drag queen Elaine Lancaster called Rodman for lunch. They've known each other for 30 years, and "Dennis will do anything — anything — for Elaine," Bright says. Many of Rodman's outlandish outfits originate with Lancaster. "He just loves the attention," Lancaster explains. "And he gets jealous if someone else around him gets it."

Which rarely happens.

Rodman arrived at Balans Café on Biscayne Boulevard that Thursday at Lancaster's urging. Empty Corona bottles and discarded glasses perspiring with melted ice soon populated the table, one of the few occupied at the small restaurant. Around the table sat Lancaster, Trishy Trish, Mike Bradley, Bradley's brown-haired wife, and Rodman. The onetime rebounding champion wore white Reebok basketball pants, Chuck Taylors, and burgundy socks.

"Excuse me, miss?" he yelled at the waitress, a cute and effervescent brunette. "I'm just gonna say this, and it's going to be vulgar. But do you have any pussy on ice?"

Puffing a cigar as thick as a sausage, Rodman howled with laughter. The cackle infected the rest of the table, and everyone smirked at the waitress, who giggled uncomfortably. Soon after, Rodman lost interest in the table's banter. A visitor asked him how long he'd lived in Miami. "It doesn't matter," said Rodman, who untangled his impossibly long legs to stand. He then espied a dark-haired man charming a pretty woman in the parking lot. The sight of this pleased Rodman. "Just fuck him already!" Rodman yelled, and everyone laughed. "Fuck him!"

The bill was paid, and Rodman climbed into Lancaster's silver SUV. They headed for her house near NE 73rd Street and Biscayne. Trishy Trish sat in the back. She'd been annoying him all day. One of his friends had called her a bitch, and this made Rodman wary of his bedmate.

"Do one thing, Trish: Shut up," Rodman growled after arriving at Lancaster's. "Quit being a bitch."

"What am I doing?" she asked.

"You want to be the boss!" Rodman yelled.

Rodman looked at a reporter. His eyes weren't discernible behind the dark sunglasses. "Write this, please. Please write it." He then glowered at Trishy Trish, who said, "Write it."

"Why are you mad at me?" she asked, weeping.

"Say you're sorry," Rodman commanded.

"I'm sorry."

"Not like that," Rodman said. "Say you're sorry."

"I'm sorry."

"Guess what?" Rodman said. "She's a bitch. I don't give a rat's ass."

"Why am I a bitch?" Trishy Trish asked. "You just stress me the fuck out. I'm tired. Every week has been like this!"

Crying, Trishy Trish disappeared behind Lancaster's house, but she returned minutes later smoking a cigarette.

"Dennis is a fucking asshole!" she screamed. "You guys try spending 24 hours a fucking day for a fucking month with him. See what kind of mood you're in. Don't take it personally, Dennis, but you're a lot of stress. You have a lot of emotion. I need a straitjacket probably. And who made you this way, Dennis? Who marketed you? You did!"

Rodman, looking at the white siding of Lancaster's house, was quiet for a long moment. "You know what?" he said. "She's right. How about that? She's right. And that's why people love me around the world."

By the time Rodman arrived at the Los Vegas strip club on an overcast Sunday afternoon later that week, the techno music was pulsing so loudly that thought had become impossible. That was fine by him. He was in his favorite flower-print blazer, and at his side were two brunet porn stars from Vivid Entertainment, a major pornography company in Los Angeles. The ballplayer ignored them. "I'm here to get fucked up," he said, sliding up to the bar at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club. Swilling red wine, he fell into the arms of a blond Playboy model in a red bikini.

Rodman wore a sad, distant expression and wasn't particularly interested in ­conversation with the young woman. He asked a burly, gray-haired photographer to stop snapping his picture, and bouncers erected a wall of chairs to separate him from other guests. For once, Rodman didn't want attention.

In the past two months, he's received more of it than he has in a decade. After North Korea, he was hammered with interview requests. In late March, Newsweek splashed a Buzz Bissinger opinion piece on its e-cover headlined, "Did Dennis Rodman Just Change the World?" Over the next few days, communicating exclusively through Trishy Trish, he abruptly canceled several appointments with New Times. In early April, he called off a late-night meeting at a club in Aventura. Then, Trishy Trish texted New Times to meet him at P.F. Chang's in Aventura at 1:30 p.m., adding in an additional message: "$10,000." That day, she called at 1:05 p.m.

"He won't be coming," she said. "I don't know where we're going, just somewhere else. Dennis' time is very valuable."

There's certainly competition for it. Donald Trump soon came calling for the season finale of Celebrity Apprentice. On an earlier episode of the New York City-based reality TV show, Trump — who shares a close Twitter relationship with Rodman and praises his North Korea trip — described Rodman as a tale of redemption but fired him for misspelling the name of his wife, Melania. (Gigi Peterson, who was then sharing a hotel room with Rodman, said he was devastated after the televised termination.)

In New York, the cameras never stopped. Strutting on the Celebrity Apprentice red carpet, Rodman wore heavy blue eye shadow and a blond Mohawk. Friend Floyd Raglin contends Rodman had talks with Sports Illustrated, which the New York Post reported is planning a cover story about him. According to an article in the Post, an SI reporter planned to shadow him at his 52nd birthday party, which he threw at a strip club called Cheetahs near Times Square.

It's easy to deride such antics as oafish hedonism — and sometimes they are — but there's also a certain genius in them. From winning championships with Jordan to donning a wedding dress at his autobiography's release and traveling to Pyongyang and Vatican City, he's amassed both fortune and relevance just by living out his own strange caricature.

His buddy Flaglin has another explanation. "It's because he's bored. When you've played with the best players, partied with all the stars, made movies, what's there left for him to do?"

Adds Gigi Peterson: "Dennis cannot hide. One time he told me: 'You know why I drink? Because the moment I step out these doors, I have to entertain. And I don't feel like doing it. I'm trapped.' "

It's true, even at obscure South Florida locations where he thinks he's safe — such as Cheetah in Hallandale Beach. At 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday, Rodman emerged from the strip club. A stunning 20-something on his arm giggled while he smoked a cigar. His driver was late, and Rodman grimaced. He wore white Reebok athletic pants and red shoes. His hair was still dyed blond from New York.

A tall man approached him, but the former basketball star declined conversation, instead extending a large paw for a fist bump. "Do your job," Rodman said and turned away.

A taxi approached Cheetah, and Rodman at first thought it was for him. But two venture-capitalist types got out and began laughing. "Dennis, I love you, man," one said. "Can I get your picture?"

Rodman's face tightened, but he acquiesced to two photos. "It doesn't embarrass you, does it?" one of them asked. The two men disappeared into Cheetah but immediately deleted their pictures of Rodman. "He's a private person," one of them said.

Outside, Rodman picked up an orange traffic cone and yelled into it. "Hey, everybody!" he screeched. "This is Cheetah!"

The young woman laughed at the buffoonery, and a black Suburban finally rolled up. "What's up, white guy?" Rodman said to the driver, and climbed into the SUV. Slowly, it pulled out of the parking lot, ascended onto I-95 heading north, and disappeared.

Launce Rake contributed reporting from Las Vegas.

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Terrence McCoy