Dennis Rodman and North Korea: A Love Story

His latest stunt with the North Korean dictator is a sign that the attention-seeking former baller is still empty inside.

Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

I guess it’s better to be a fool with “friends” than a fool alone.

That’s the first thing that came to mind when I heard that NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman was bringing a cadre of “All Stars” to North Korea to play an exhibition game. I believed this even more after Rodman’s sometimes screaming but often rambling defense of his “friend,” North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Explaining why the whole “my BFF is a ruthless dictator” stuff doesn’t bother him, Rodman told reporters: “This game is for his birthday, and hopefully this opens the doors and we can actually talk about certain things and we can do certain things. But I’m not going to sit there and go, ‘Hey, guy, you’re doing the wrong thing.’ It’s not the right thing to do, he’s my friend first … I love him.”

While I have no insight as to why former NBA players Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker and Charles D. Smith signed up for this trip to the real-life Hunger Games (other than the most obvious one: money), I have a pretty good idea what motivated Rodman.

As someone who grew up watching him play, I’d always imagined Rodman as sort of a kicked puppy who would say or do wild things while desperately clinging to anyone who tossed him some love, attention or a bone. But choosing his newfound buddies from a country known for the mass starvation of millions of its own people and operating cruel, dehumanizing gulags seems to point to a more self-immolating kind of desperation.

Rodman has chosen to enter an unhealthy, “loving” relationship with the leadership of North Korea, a group most recently in the news for executing a government official by firing squad. (Or by vicious, starving dogs, if you believe that sort of thing.) Leader Kim is a lifelong basketball fan who grew up idolizing Rodman, as well as the 1990s Chicago Bulls roster, as a teen in a European boarding school.

Why Rodman has chosen this guy for his love is pretty obvious if you understand his history.

Dennis Rodman is not a happy person.

Rodman grew up in a turbulent home, had crippling self-esteem issues and even contemplated suicide in 1993. After that low, he reinvented himself as a “bad boy” and temporarily found the adoration he’d long sought in America’s wildly unpredictable and cruel fame cycle.