Who do we blame for Dennis Rodman in North Korea
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Who do we blame for Dennis Rodman in North Korea

A North Korean television report typically identifies American leaders President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton as devils and warmongers.

We can only imagine how Dennis Rodman is identified when this odd-looking man’s face is flashed across North Korean TV screens. He has nose rings, ear rings and lip rings protruding from orifices. He wears sunglasses indoors. His Brooklyn hat is askew, a sartorial crime against the legacy of Jackie Robinson.

But it’s safe to assume that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un wants Rodman viewed this way: The face and voice of reason in America.

Rodman, with his basketball trips to North Korea, thinks he has found a purpose in life. Kim Jong Un has convinced him he can bring about peace between his nation and the imperialistic Americans with warmongers for leaders.

Rodman, fondly known as the Worm when his behavior was at its best in his early NBA days with the Detroit Pistons, believes he has the discerning ear to solve the conflict that created the 38th parallel and bloody Korean War more than a half-century ago. Rodman thinks he can succeed where American presidents, starting with Truman and through Obama, have failed.

And who do we have to blame for this disturbing sense of credibility Rodman believes he possesses on the world stage?

I say it’s Phil Jackson — not to mention Michael Jordan, with Scottie Pippen, Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr duped along the way as unknowing participants. Pippen was Jordan’s Robin; more on Buechler and Kerr later.

Jackson, the zen master, and Jordan, the supreme one, were the ones who brought Rodman on board the Bulls Express for three more NBA championships from 1996 to 1998.

Jackson and Jordan realized they were stuck at three NBA titles and couldn’t win another without power forward Horace Grant, who left the Bulls as a free agent. Jackson and Jordan sold their souls for a cartoon character as the substitute for the departed Grant. It’s not unusual for a team to make concessions to a character to win games. Charles Barkley was a character, but he wasn't a cartoon character.

Do you remember when Rodman imploded on the San Antonio Spurs? There was a 1995 “Sports Illustrated” cover of him dressed in a leather outfit, a parrot on his arm and story that detailed how he dreamed about playing a game naked.

Do you think Bill Russell would have allowed that guy to wear a Boston Celtics uniform?

Jackson, for all his coaching genius, needed Rodman to grab rebounds if the Bulls were to keep winning. Jordan, for all his talent, needed Rodman under the basket with his uncanny ability to grab loose balls if Jordan was to follow his baseball failure with another NBA title.

They made a deal with the devil to win three more titles. Poor Kobe Bryant — he’s playing on one leg as he chases matching Jordan’s sixth title that was won as a pact with the devil.

Jackson and Jordan should have fully tested their remarkable skills and taken on the challenge of winning an NBA title without a cartoon character.

And to keep Rodman bonded with his Bulls teammates — as a 1997 “Sports Illustrated” story playfully detailed — Jackson sent Buechler and Kerr with Rodman on an all-night drinking binge to Atlantic City while the Bulls were on a road trip to Philadelphia. They awoke with the “hangovers of the size of the Liberty Bell,” according to author Michael Silver.

Father Jackson feared if Rodman was left to his own misguided sense of direction, he might self-destruct as he did with the San Antonio Spurs. He was right. “Sports Illustrated” celebrated Rodman with the Bulls as a rebounding machine — not as a cartoon character.

But I digress. Back to those images on North Korean TV of Dennis Rodman trotting around like a wannabe statesman.

Kim Jong Un — a reputed Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan from his days as a student in Switzerland — wouldn’t have settled on Rodman as an NBA substitute without his Chicago Bulls history. Jackson and Jordan bestowed that credibility upon the Worm.

Kim Jong Un wants his people to believe he and Rodman are working to help America’s warmongering leaders to see the light. But Kim Jong Un better be careful. His exploitation of the unwitting Rodman may backfire on him.

Rodman, unintentionally, has brought attention to the United States public that American missionary Kenneth Bae has been held captive in North Korea for nearly two years. Rodman has allowed Bae’s sister a platform to criticize both Rodman and North Korea. The attention could help American diplomats do their job behind the scenes.

Maybe, Kim Jon Un should consider the threat that if the North Koreans see too much of Rodman, the poor soles of that imprisoned northern half of the Korean peninsula will conclude they have nothing to fear if Rodman is the face and voice of American reason.  What threat does the United States pose to North Korea if Americans are led by a cartoon character — as Kim Jong Un wants his people to believe?

Then they might rise up and tell their dear leader to quit the scare tactics and feed a hungry nation.

Ah, maybe that’s what the zen master Phil Jackson had in mind all along. Maybe signing Rodman was his first chess move in a two-decade-long quest for world peace.

Just don’t tell me Dennis Rodman understands what he’s doing in North Korea.


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and Chargers.com. He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer, MLB.com, Rivals.com and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."