In Defense of Dennis Rodman

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Dennis Rodman is one strange dude.

I once visited a club he had in Chicago, during the days of the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls championship years. The crowd was the strangest crowd I have ever seen in my life. It looked like a convention of a secret transvestite subchapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Despite his strangeness, Rodman did have an influence on the nation by being the first to cover his body with tatoos. For whatever reason, millions have followed Rodman into getting inked-up bodies. Prior to Rodman’s tattoos, they were mostly worn just by merchant sailors–and only one, on the arm.

But Rodman, his pro basketball playing days well behind him, is now in the national spotlight for playing exhibition games in North Korea at the invitation of  NK’s leader, the crazed Kim Jong-un.

I am sure he is doing it for the money. He spends money like, well, a drunken tattooed sailor.

In Chicago, during the Bulls championship  runs, Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan would occasionally dine at Tavern on Rush. The wait staff there had a name for Pippen, “No tippin’ Pippen.” He would leave 5% tips. Jordan would tip 25% and the waiters would fight to wait on Rodman. You could make a months worth of earnings by waiting on Rodman. He would ask all kinds of favors, but he would pay up. If he wanted a waiter to get him a cigar, he tipped $100 for the cigar.

Chris Cuomo did an attack interview with Rodman about his trip to North Korea. He asked Rodman why he wasn’t doing anything to attempt get the American Kenneth Bae, who is imprisoned in North Korea, free. Rodman attempted to explain to Cuomo that he wasn’t a diplomat, just a basketball player, but Cuomo wouldn’t have any of it. Now, admittedly, Rodman’s replies to Cuomo were quite inarticulate.  But, this doesn’t mean Rodman isn’t a shrewd guy. I once had a conversation with him mostly about women, in Chicago’s Whiskey Bar, and the guy has serious game.

This, btw, is in contrast to Michael Jordan, who could certainly get his share of women, because he was, afterall, Michael Jordan, but he had no rap. Jordan spent many a cold winter night in Chicago trying to get in the sack Christy Sweet, a stunning and smart bartender who then worked at a club called Narcisse. It never happened for Jordan.

But back to Rodman, though inarticulate in his responses, he did make the wise comment that his exhibition games, in a tiny way, may open up North Korea just a bit. And, indeed, study history and it becomes clear that free trade is a peacemaker. He was also wise to stay away from international politics, which he clearly understands he has no expertise in. But, CNN’s Cuomo would have none of it. Then, CNN’s Anderson Cooper piled on Tuesday night with more attacks on Rodman. It makes you wonder, when Cooper, the “former”-CIA guy, promotes the hell out of a story that could very well be ignored. Could the CIA actually have a problem with opening up relations with North Korea, if only a tiny bit with Rodman’s exhibition games?

Then there’s NBA commissioner David Stern, who issued a statement  that said  “The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman’s North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department. Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them.”

Approval of the State Department? WTF?

I note that this statement comes from the commissioner of a league that plays the national anthem before each game of a country that has imprisoned whisteblower Chelsea Manning and has caused Edward Sowden to flee the United States for Russia. Maybe Stern should stop worrying about what a former NBA player is doing in North Korea and look in the mirror and think about the government actions of the country that he allows to be saluted before every NBA game.

Stern piled on during a television interview (on, surprise, CNN) when he told Wolf Blitzer  “Dennis will be Dennis. But I think there’s a lot at stake here in terms of a country that has — a very dangerous country.”

Maybe Stern should ask Afghans and Iraqis which country they think is dangerous.

Stern also said he believes “a flash of North Korean money” has blinded Rodman. This comes from the commissioner of a league that regularly shakesdown cities to construct arenas. The built arenas ultimately shuffle huge profits that go into the pockets of the owners of NBA teams.

Bottom line: I find Stern’s statements outrageous, and his State Department line much more dangerous than anything Rodman has said or done.

And, CNN, what can you say about CNN that hasn’t been said before? It is a mouthpiece for the US government and heaven forbid a series of exhibition basketball games go on in a country that is not in the good graces of the USG. It all reminds of the Bobby Fisher saga and his willingness to thumb his nose at the USG and play a chess match in Yugoslavia.

Rodman, like Fisher, has done nothing but thumb his nose at the USG list of bad guys and is willing to ply his profession where he is called.

Dennis, keep up the peacemaking free trade!

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

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