America's Latest Renaissance Man

Article excerpt

Byline: Buzz Bissinger

Even in the baddest bad-ass behavior of his basketball days, when his hair looked like flame and his enormous piercings seemed made from a chain-link fence and it was always hard to divide his reality from his calculated ridiculous, it was inconceivable that Dennis Rodman would one day change world diplomacy.

Hip-checking the Utah Jazz's John Stockton and pushing the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen into the stands when he played in the National Basketball Association? Yes. Head-butting an official? Yes. Kicking a cameraman in the groin? Yes. Wearing a bridal gown to promote his book, Bad as I Wanna Be, that sold a million copies? Yes. A sartorial style that was a mix of Liberace and Phyllis Diller and Dudley Do-Right? Yes. The undeniable kinkiness of sex with Madonna as well as the apocalyptic nightmare of it? Yes. Arguably the best rebounder in the NBA over the past 40 years with an uncanny gift and instinct for the game? Yes. Vulnerability behind the feathery boas and the Wizard of Odd costumes? Yes. Abandonment issues? Yes. A craving for attention? Yes. Wincing candor? Yes. Naivete. Yes. Alcoholism? Yes. Complexity? Yes, yes, and yes.

But creating the tempest that no athlete in modern times has created by yukking it up several weeks ago with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un despite a record on human rights that is likely the worst of any country in the world? No.

Not even Dennis Rodman seemed remotely capable of such accomplishment.

But idiosyncratic individuality, even in the blur of globalization and homogenization, still has a place. You may hate Rodman for later calling Kim a "good guy." You may get up on your high horse and compare him to Charles Lindbergh when he appeared with Hitler in the 1930s. But hey, where the hell were we? Sitting in our mancaves and womancaves in the United States watching Dennis Rodman in North Korea.

For a man who had slid into the ozone layer of virtual obscurity after a controversial and colorful 14-year career in which he won five championships with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bills, and who is reportedly broke despite the tens of millions he once made in salary and endorsements, this may have been the smartest thing he has ever done, whether he knew it or not.

He did not initiate the trip, accompanied by three members of the Harlem Globetrotters. It was orchestrated by a Brooklyn company called Vice Media as part of a new newsmagazine show on HBO, also called Vice. It seemed clear Rodman knew absolutely nothing about the appalling human-rights record of North Korea.

At least he took a stand, even though it was a horrible one, unlike virtually every other fellow athlete, where political boldness has become pointing a finger at the sky after a touchdown or home run or three-pointer, Praise Be to God as if God gives a toss.

As noted by Esquire writer-at-large Scott Raab, who got to know Rodman well in the 1990s and once got tattoos with him, he did engage with a country and a leader in which hundreds of journalists and politicians and business big feet have tried and failed. Rodman and the Vice film crew became the first known Americans to meet Kim since he inherited power from his father.

It was completely mondo bizarro. Of course it was mondo bizarro. Maybe it was ill advised. But the trouble with life today is that not enough is ill advised, virtually every important event staged and choreographed so what's the effing point of even having them unless it's George Bush and he throws up? For a flicker at least, Dennis Rodman was back in the sun. It was like the old days of the 1990s, when journalists mined every word of frequently voodoo elliptical non sequitur nonsense for Proustian profundity. If you have followed Dennis Rodman, there was something sort of serendipitous about it all, the revival of a man by some miracle still standing.

"I dream about death all the time just because I know it's coming one day and for some reason I've got to figure out which way to go, how it's gonna happen" he told Rolling Stone writer Chris Heath in 1996. …