Los Angeles — Dennis Rodman keeps finding new ways to surprise.
The 58-year-old former NBA star built his own personal brand of flamboyant individualism well before social media made every pro athlete accessible to fans, and outside the traditional endorsements-and-corporate partnership framework. At the peak of his fame in the 1990s, Rodman pulled the spotlight toward himself by swapping out hair colors, adding tattoos and piercings, dressing in drag, and dating Madonna.
“I branded Dennis Rodman being different,” he says. “I was just being free … because I was becoming so bored about life and about playing the game of basketball, I had to do something to spark my life.”
After winning two championships with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls, Rodman flamed out of the NBA in 2000. He spent years pursuing lackluster side hustles — and partying — then found his way back in front of microphones and cameras by forming a relationship with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
Rodman’s spectacular personal highs and very public lows are the subject of the new ESPN “30 For 30” documentary “Dennis Rodman: For Better or Worse.” While making promotional rounds for the film, he wore a T-shirt depicting himself in a wedding dress at a 1996 book promo event.
Rodman spoke with The Associated Press about finding his niche as an entertainer, locker-room etiquette and President Donald Trump’s North Korea diplomacy.
► AP: Sometimes being out of control led to the things that were best for you, and sometimes the worst for you. How do you think about that?
► Rodman: I think the worst things that I was doing that people called bad – me drunk driving or me going to jail – was the best thing that happened to me. And all the good things that happened to me, I pretty much damaged those on my own because the way I was living and the way I was doing things in my life. But I think that title for the documentary is so appropriate: “For Better or for Worse.” Because when I was building this individual, Dennis Rodman, and I was building this brand — which I didn’t know was a brand back then — I did this all by myself. I don’t have anybody to help me, to make Dennis Rodman. Michael Jordan got Nike, Kobe got Nike. … One of the things I was proud of the most back then — I actually brought the gay community to the forefront for sports because of the things I was doing. I did a “Sports Illustrated” cover where I went in in a bathing suit and had makeup and stuff like that. And I was so flamboyant when I was doing it and stuff like that and people are like “Wow, we like this guy because he’s not afraid to go out the box.”
► AP: Given what you did 20 years ago, are you surprised there still aren’t more out gay players in professional sports?
► Rodman: I just think that percentage-wise in sports, I think there’s a lot. There’s probably more bisexual than gay in sports. I’m sorry guys, to expose everybody. I wish all of them would come out. It’s acceptable today. Just come out, man. Have a good time. Enjoy yourself.
► AP: Did you see those conversations happening in the locker room? Were people having those talks?
► Rodman: I don’t know any man on this planet – any man on this planet – that don’t go in the shower and look at another man. I don’t know any man that don’t do that. Gay or not gay, I don’t care who you are – a man is going to look at another man. I don’t give a damn how you look at it. He’s not gay though, but you got that pride and that image.
► AP: (With North Korea), you weren’t intentional about necessarily going in order to make a name for yourself?
► Rodman: It was a learning experience. It was a great experience. I mean a lot of people wish they can do what I did. I broke ground, I broke levels of leadership and stuff like that. And people don’t give me credit for it, which I don’t care. … I didn’t expect to be friends with this guy. Like I say, he hasn’t done anything to me, but to the world, he’s probably damaging to the world. But he respected me and I respected him in a friendship-type manner. … He was a very courteous, nice individual. Trump seems to want to do his political thing. You know like, ‘I’m saving the world for all of us.’ I said, Donald, don’t forget, I met him first. (Laughs.) I hope everything works out between North Korea and America. And it should in the future – unless someone mess it up. And it ain’t going to be me.
► AP: Are you worried that Donald Trump is going to mess it up?
► Rodman: It should work out. Let things pan out. I’m not going to mess it up, but I hope someone would just make sure that everything is cool. That’s it. Enough said.
► AP: Do you consider yourself a Donald Trump supporter now?
► Rodman: Nah. I like Donald no matter what. I mean Donald as president, I don’t care if he’s president or not, I just like him as a friend. That’s it. Now as president, I don’t know what he’s doing. As a friend, I just go shake his hand, we break bread. That’s it. I don’t hate nobody. I don’t care what you do, whatever. If you’re friendly to me, you’re nice to me, I’m good.