Dennis Rodman: from NBA star to ‘informal’ US diplomat

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Five-time NBA champion Dennis Rodman is planning to visit Russia to help seek the release of Brittney Griner, the women’s basketball player who has been jailed for nine years on drug charges. 

Former Chicago Bulls star Rodman told NBC News that he has “got permission to go to Russia to help that girl” and is “trying to go this week”. This is despite the US State Department issuing a travel advisory that strongly discourages American citizens from visiting Russia, due to the invasion of Ukraine. 

The 61-year-old does not need special permission from the US to enter Russia – just a visa from Moscow, said Jonathan Allen on NBC. And if Rodman does go, “it won’t be the first time he has conducted informal diplomacy with an international leader who has strained relations with the US”. 

Having cultivated a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the past decade, Rodman has also “expressed confidence in his understanding” of Vladimir Putin, Allen added. “I know Putin too well,” Rodman said.

With a record of “unorthodox forays into geopolitics”, Rodman has spoken approvingly of Putin in the past, said AFP.  In 2014 he described the Russian president as “actually cool” after meeting him in Moscow.

Should Rodman be successful in helping the release of Griner, it will be his “second time freeing American citizens from abroad”, said Vanessa Serna in the Daily Mail. In 2014, he claimed that he was behind the release of various US citizens detained in North Korea, including Christian missionary Kenneth Bae.

Trump and ‘the Kimster’ 

In the past, Rodman has “sought to inject himself into international diplomacy”, said Steve Holland on Reuters. And he is just “one of a handful of Westerners” to have met North Korean head of state Kim on multiple visits to the country. 

He’s also the “only person in the world” who can call both Donald Trump and “the Kimster” a friend, said Gordon G. Chang on the Daily Beast. When there was “war talk on the Korean peninsula”, Rodman visited North Korea and a June 2017 headline in The Washington Post asked, “was he sent by Trump?”. The suggestion was “by no means outrageous”, Chang added. “Sometimes diplomacy needs a cross-dressing, pierced, tattooed weirdo who has five NBA championship rings and a place in the league’s Hall of Fame.”

NBA’s ‘most underrated player’

Rodman’s basketball career highlights are “overshadowed by the controversy he stirred up on and off the court”, said Chris Houston on Bleacher Report. But he is “without a doubt” the “most underrated player” in the history of the NBA. A two-time defensive player of the year, a seven-time all-defensive first team, and seven-time rebounding champion, he was the “embodiment of a team player”.  

Nicknamed “The Worm”, Rodman acquired a “bad-boy reputation” while playing for the “notorious” Detroit Pistons from 1986 to 1993, said Daniel Arambur on However, after signing for the Bulls in 1995 “things changed” when he teamed up with the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr. In Chicago he won three NBA championships and established himself as one of the NBA’s greatest defensive players of all time. 

After Rodman retired from basketball in 2006, it’s right to conclude that his life has been “extremely unpredictable”, said Kevin Williams on More Than Sport. And to say he’s had issues is “probably an understatement”. Arrested more than 100 times, he’s also had addiction issues with alcohol and drugs. 

“Bad boy for life” Rodman is “one of the most notorious partiers of all time”, said Mychal Denzel Smith in GQ. But when you “peel away” the attitude, and the hair, and the piercings and tattoos, who really is Dennis Rodman “underneath it all?”. 

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