Longform

Dennis Rodman: From Basketball Bad Boy to Dubious Diplomat

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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.

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Terrence McCoy