Papal conclave? Zombie convention? Dictator's sanctum sanctorum? Where is Rodman now? Where will he be next? And, most important, can he save the world? Tune in to the latest episode of As the Worm Turns
This is an article from the July 8, 2013 issue
Where isn't Dennis Rodman now?
Ever since the Mavericks cut ties with him in 2000, the Worm has wriggled around the earth, his travels faintly following the path that, well, worms trace under rocks. "I'll go anywhere that I'm needed," says the Hall of Fame forward. "I'm living famous and living infamous and enjoying the whole crazy carnival to the fullest."
Immune to shame, Rodman is a cultural phenomenon unto himself: the wildest child of the modern marriage of sports and entertainment, a gender-bending free spirit who engenders benders and seldom turns down free spirits. His arc of fame is perhaps best described by the titles of his memoirs—he has four!—the first of which is Rebound: The Dennis Rodman Story and the most recent, I Should Be Dead by Now.
The Worm won five championships during 14 tumultuous seasons in the NBA, where he's remembered as much for his antics (head-butting a referee, kicking a cameraman, frolicking with Madonna and Carmen Electra, wearing a wedding dress to a ceremony in which he "married" himself) and his appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair dyed colors found only in a 120 pack of Crayolas) as for his sublime defense and rebounding. So many holes have been punched into Rodman's anatomy that when a breeze blows, he sounds like an ocarina.
Thirteen years into retirement, the Worm embodies—literally, figuratively, outlandishly—the reductio ad absurdum of our celebrity-obsessed culture. "If you ranked the 10 most identifiable people on the planet, I'd be Number 5," he says modestly. "I'd come in right after God, Jesus, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. But take away the Top Four's bodyguards and entourages, and put them on a busy street in New York City, and I bet no one would recognize any of them. They'd recognize me, though, and I don't even try to stick out." On the other hand none of the Top Four are likely to gad about Times Square in a bra and a blond Mohawk.
Rodman grabs attention as effortlessly as he once pulled down rebounds. At 52 he still has the power to astound, outrage and amuse, which is perhaps why his presence, like Frank Sinatra's at a state dinner, is slightly more attention-getting than the prizefight or wrestling match or basketball game he's attending. His public expects him to be on hand for sport's megaspectacles—say, the 2005 Wife-Carrying World Championships in Sonkaj√§rvi, Finland, at which the prize was the wife's weight in beer and a cellphone—and he feels obligated to meet those expectations.
For all you global-Worming skeptics, here's proof: Already this century Rodman has made hoops stops in Mexico, England and the Philippines, rehab stops in Fort Lauderdale (kamikazes) and Pasadena (J√§germeister), and arrest stops in Los Angeles and Newport Beach (domestic violence). Some of this played out on reality TV (Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and Sober House with Dr. Drew), some in plain old-fashioned reality (the Van Nuys jail). "I'm so glad I've never been a drug addict," says Rodman. "I guess I was too hyper as a kid and loved playing sports too much."
In L.A., he presided over Lingerie Bowl III—as league commissioner, no less—during halftime of Super Bowl XL. In Las Vegas he was the first guest to stay in the $50,000-a-night Hardwood Suite (two floors, adjoining basketball court with a locker room and ball racks) at the Palms Casino Resort. And in March the Ireland-based gambling site Paddy Power dispatched Rodman to Vatican City to help the cardinals in conclave choose a new pope. Having denied that he was angling to play for the Papal Bulls, the Worm explained, "I'm just promoting this website. It's a gambling website, and it's about people that are going to bet on the new pope. If he's black, you get your money back."
To his mind, the pilgrimage cemented his status as an international ambassador for peace. Just a couple of weeks before, he had dropped into Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on a "basketball democracy tour." The stunt had been dreamed up by Brooklyn-based Vice Media for the season finale of a new show on HBO.
Rodman's very public powwow with Kim Jong-un, the rogue state's missile-rattling dictator, was the most existential odd coupling since Nobel Prize--winning writer Samuel Beckett met a hulking boy named André Roussimoff in the French countryside and drove the future André the Giant to school in his pickup.
More astounding, Rodman got serious face and partying time with the reclusive despot, whose brother, Kim Jong-chul, used to parade around their Swiss prep school in the Worm's Bulls jersey. At a private dinner reception, Rodman even serenaded the Supreme Leader with Sinatra's "My Way." Afterward, the Worm said of Kim, "guy's really awesome" and a "friend for life." A headline in Britain's Daily Mirror pronounced them THE BASKETBALL ACE AND THE BASKETCASE.
The ace took such criticism in his long, loping stride. "I haven't had a job in years, yet I'm talked about more than ever," he marveled. "I'm doing all these amazing, historic things, and the public can't believe it's actually Dennis Rodman, of all people—not Madonna, Oprah or anybody like that. It's Dennis Rodman!"
More accurately, Dennis Rodmen. "Dennis has multiple personalities," says Darren Prince, his marketing agent. "The way I see it, he has six." The way we see it, all six are Disney characters who are tight with Snow White.
Dennis Rodman is HAPPY.
Early on this warm, blustery afternoon outside the Jet Blue baggage claim at JFK, the Worm is holding forth—to his limo driver, to anyone who will listen, to the wind—on his foray into geopolitics. "Before I landed in Pyongyang, I didn't know Kim Jong-un from Lil' Kim," he says. "I didn't know what country he ruled or what went on in the country he ruled."
So how is life in North Korea?
"I can't complain."
His getup looks like debris from an exploding thrift shop. Slung from his left shoulder is a satchel stuffed with scarves, some lacy, some sparkly, all exotic. His T-shirt is untucked, his Converse All-Stars are unlaced, and he's got more metal in his head than the average golf club.
So, Dennis, what was your sense of Kim Jong-un?
"All he does is smile and smile and smile. He's just having a blast."
No, not that kind of blast!
"Fact is, he hasn't bombed anywhere he's threatened to yet. Not South Korea, not Hawaii, not ... whatever. People say he's the worst guy in the world. All I know is Kim told me he doesn't want to go to war with America. His whole deal is to talk basketball with Obama. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't want to have anything to do with him. I ask, Mr. President, what's the harm in a simple phone call? This is a new age, man. Come on, Obama, reach out to Kim and be his friend."
Rodman plans to return to North Korea in August. "I'm just gonna chill, play some basketball and maybe go on vacation with Kim and his family," Rodman says. "I've called on the Supreme Leader to do me a solid by releasing Kenneth Bae." The Korean-American missionary was recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges that he tried to topple the North Korean regime. He'd organized tours into the isolated state.
"My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries," Rodman says. "Why it's been left to me to smooth things over, I don't know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it's the black guy's [Obama's] job. But I'll tell you this: If I don't finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something's seriously wrong."
Dennis Rodman is SLEEPY.
He's nodded off in the backseat of an airport van on the ride into Manhattan. As he snores contentedly, his friend James Davis ponders the mysteries of Wormanetics.
"I'm amazed by how Dennis stays in the limelight," says Davis, a South Beach drag queen. "It's all sort of organic. Dennis doesn't sit around and calculate ways to cause controversy. Controversy finds him. He's the new Jane Fonda."
Davis is Rodman's longtime makeup artist. They've been going on the road together since the Worm was a guest at the 1998 Exotic Erotic Ball in San Francisco. "That was my first entry into the crazy world of Dennis Rodman," Davis says. "The instant he entered the Cow Palace, it was like the pope had walked into St. Peter's Square. You can oppose who you think Dennis is or what you think he represents, but you cannot dislike him. Dennis has no agenda."
He does have a hangover, however. On this morning's flight, he said earlier, "I couldn't get comfortable, so I got drunk. I had to wake up really early to get here from home." Home is outside Miami. "My community is 99.999 percent white and Jewish," said Rodman, the other .001%.
When the van pulls up to Basketball City, an indoor facility near Chelsea Piers, he staggers out to play a game of H-O-R-S-E for charity. Waiting inside is Joe Terwilliger, a human genetics professor at Columbia University Medical Center. Terwilliger bid $2,350 in an online auction to get the game. The money is targeted for an alcohol-and-drug-rehab center.
"You're gonna kill me, Dennis," Terwilliger says. "I haven't played the game in years."
"Same here, brother," says Rodman.
It shows. They throw enough bricks—roughly 147 in five minutes—to qualify for membership in the masons' union. Finally, groggily, Rodman says, "I give up. You shoot the rest." A dozen bricks later, the professor sinks a basket. "H-O-R-S-E!" shouts Rodman.
"Dennis, I think what you did in North Korea is great!" says Terwilliger, who will teach a summer session at a school in Pyongyang. He hands Rodman a gag memento of the Hermit Kingdom: a Dear Leader tongue scraper.
Dennis Rodman is PRINCE CHARMING.
Wired into an iPad in a lower Manhattan photo studio, he watches one of his favorite movies (Blazing Saddles) and mouths one of his favorite lines ("One of these days they're gonna respect me").
For some reason, the film reminds Rodman of Jerry Buss, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner who died in February. During the 1998--99 lockout season, Rodman briefly played for the Lakers and, somewhat scandalously, played blackjack with Buss in Vegas. "I loved Jerry Buss," he says, gazing up from the farting-by-the-campfire scene. "The man invented Showtime and appreciated showmanship."
Buss's daughter Jeanie, the team's executive vice president of business operations, says Rodman has great emotional generosity. After her dad's death, the Worm called to console her. "We cried together," she recalls. "Dennis was like family to my father. They had a special relationship that meant a lot to my dad. It really had nothing to do with basketball. It was touching."
Jeanie thinks Rodman is generally misunderstood. "He's very bright and good at reading situations," she says. "People too easily see only the surface. I have to say, sometimes Dennis dresses in a way that's a distraction and keeps people from hearing him. They're too busy wondering where a guy his size could find a feather boa."
Dennis Rodman is BASHFUL.
Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls—it's a mixed-up, shook-up world for everyone except Rodman, who leans back on a chair in Davis's suite at the Trump Soho getting made up for a cameo on All-Star Celebrity Apprentice. The Worm looks smashing: hot-chocolate foundation, eggplant-purple eye shadow, a little mascara, fuchsia blush, outrageously furry eyelashes, kohl eyeliner and Davis's signature Pusswah Pink lip gloss.
Surrounded by enough cosmetics to resurrect Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Rodman submits to the delicate brushing and sponging. "I'm gonna make Dennis as pretty as possible, but I'm not a magician," Davis grouses. "I wish he'd take the hoops out of his nose, but he refuses. And the lip ring? Good Lord!"
Would Rodman consider appearing as a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race? "Too perfect," he says, adjusting his Mohawk. "I don't do perfection, and I don't do predictable. I've created a brand so distinctive, so Dennis Rodman, that I've gotta go beyond beyond. I've got to be extraordinary and extreme. Not just over the top, but over the top top."
Rodman arrives on the red carpet in a bright blazer that depicts reindeer having a luau. "Underneath it all," Davis cracks, "Dennis is a shy guy."
Dennis, is there anything you haven't worn that you later regretted?
"Yeah," he says, coyly, "a condom."
Dennis Rodman is DOPEY.
He's gnawing on a turkey club sandwich in the VIP lounge of an Orlando hotel, weighing three new endorsement offers (Klondike bars, a personal-injury law firm, an herbal male-enhancement supplement) and airing his secret fantasies. "This may sound ridiculous," he says with a wink, "but I've been thinking of pitching a reality show that would costar my three former wives. Every day I'd have sex with a different one."
He'd like to film the series at a beach bungalow in Maui. "We'd have an open house," he says. "A very open house." Sliding doors. No locks. "I'd just come in and do my thing, man," he says.
And what would the show be called?
Dennis and the Exes.
Dennis Rodman is GRUMPY.
Ensconced behind a folding table at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, he's signing autographs for a horde of shambling, sunken-eyed would-be zombies who paid up to $199 each to attend Spooky Empire's May-Hem. "I hate these kinds of shows," Rodman confides. "The promoters take advantage of me being alive, being famous or infamous. I'd rather not be here, but it's hard to turn down my fans. I'll tell you one thing: I sure ain't here for the f------ money. Give me 20 bucks, and I'm ready to rock and roll."
Usually he demands between $20,000 and $40,000 to appear at a Stateside event. But he's taking less at this zombie apocalypse to promote his newest book, Dennis the Wild Bull. The story centers on a tattooed, red-maned, befeathered beast who's snatched from his family and forced to live with other bulls in a rodeo. Though the four-legged Dennis looks different from the others, he's accepted and becomes their pal. It's the first children's book about the Worm, if you don't count Bad As I Wanna Dress: The Unauthorized Dennis Rodman Paper Doll Book.
Unsettled souls line up at Rodman's table bearing photos, action figures and ghoulish ornaments such as tiny coffins and severed arms. Among the scarier-looking attendees is a middle-aged woman with a spider tattooed on her neck. Cobwebs and bats are worked into the lace top above the bit of fur at the bustier of her form-fitting vinyl gown. She gives Rodman a pair of ancient Air Worm sneakers to sign and says, "Dennis, you're awesome."
"I'm thrilled to hear that, sister," he says, brightening. "I'm so used to people calling me a piece of crap."
"Why did you write a children's book? I didn't even know you had kids."
"I've got four," says Rodman, who last December was ordered to pay $500,000 in back child support to his ex-wife Michelle, the mother of two of his children. "I never wanted to be a father, but I love having kids. I think about them so much. I have a tendency to love something I can't have, and if I have something, I can't love it."
A man decked out as a spectacularly rotted walking corpse asks Rodman what he thinks of Jason Collins, who has just come out as the first active gay NBA player. "No big deal," says the Worm. "If I was gay and had come out during my playing days, everyone would have said, 'Yeah, so what? We already figured that.' The truth is, in the pros, gays are as common as steroids."
When Rodman is finished communing with the undead, he boards another airport van. He's headed for his third 52nd birthday party of the last 10 days—this one in Toronto. "I'm having a monthlong celebration," he says. "Different guests, different city, same cake."
Before departing, Rodman muses on his mortality. "For 30 years people have been saying, 'Dennis is gonna die! Dennis is gonna die! Dennis is gonna die!' " he says. "But I've persevered. Whenever I do go to the other side, I hope it's in a blaze of glory."
Rodman wants his body to be cryogenically frozen and exhibited in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. "One of every three visitors will have a great story about knowing me, seeing me," he says with a melting smile.
After five years on public display, he'd like his icy remains to be shot into space. If Wormholes exist, Rodman will no doubt find one.
Five Completely Trivial Things We Learned About Dennis Rodman
Rodman's favorite band is Pearl Jam; his favorite singer is its frontman, Eddie Vedder.
The NBA player he hated to face? James Worthy. "Usually, the guys I defended were bigger than me," says Rodman. "But Worthy matched up height-wise, and I still couldn't guard his ass. He'd come off a screen, and I'd try to see if he was going over the top or underneath. Next thing I knew, he was at the rim."
In 1997, Rodman made his feature film debut in Double Team, a performance that earned him three Razzie awards: worst new star, for which he beat out the animatronic snake from Anaconda; worst supporting actor, over Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin; and, with co-star Jean-Claude Van Damme, worst screen couple.
The Worm's preferred pontiff was John Paul II. "He was cool as hell. He was like a pimp, sitting up there, speaking like 20,000 different languages. He was great for the world."
The question he's asked most at parties: "Will you do a shot with me?"
Watch Dennis Rodman interact with fans at the Spooky Empire festival and then sit down for a one-on-one interview. Free for subscribers at SI.com/activate