By Michael E. Miller
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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.