The incident underscores a central mission in Dennis’s life, even back then: to feel good. He didn’t try to sell the watches; that’s not why he took them. He simply handed them out to people he knew. “I was trying to please people…. I just wanted people to like me,” he once said.
I think often about his mug shot from that night. In it, you can see all of the fear and loneliness sunken into his face. He’s in the middle of a late-stage growth spurt—after turning 18, he shot up from 5 feet 11 to 6 feet 7—but there’s nothing that feels adult in the way his head hangs. He’d been crying, and every feature that people had labeled as ugly sticks out a little more prominently. He’s a kid here, a kid in search of a kind of love he didn’t feel at home.
Today Dennis has four children himself. Two were born in 2001 and 2002—D.J., who plays college basketball for the Washington State Cougars, and Trinity, a professional soccer player for the Washington Spirit, from his third marriage. (His second marriage was to Carmen Electra in 1998, the result of a drunken night in Vegas.) There’s also his son Chase, who was born in the late ’90s by a woman Dennis never married. His relationship with his kids is strained, and he thinks often about Alexis, his first, who was born in 1988. Dennis wasn’t around much when she was growing up. Professional athletes have intense schedules, and on top of that, Dennis was always off partying. A part of Dennis always knew he was failing them. In his 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech, with all four Rodman children in the audience, he apologized for not being a better father.
Ten years later, he’s still working on it. “I’ma have a relationship with my kids. That’s coming soon,” he tells me on the balcony at the W. “I just got to get them together.” Dennis envisions a scenario where all of his children will be together and he’ll be in the hot seat, answering all their questions. “I want to hear it, because I want to know what they felt like all these years.”
Dennis Rodman says he’s ready for a reckoning. He wants to repair the damage he’s done to his relationships. He wants to atone for his mistakes. But the common denominator in his reasoning—“soon”—suggests he might not know how, and he continues to look for validation in sometimes strange places. Like, say, Pyongyang, North Korea.
In 2013, Dennis Rodman became one of the first Americans to meet Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea and successor to Kim Jong-il. He went with a Vice documentary crew for an exhibition game. Apparently the Kims were huge Bulls fans, which pried the door open for what was termed “basketball diplomacy.” Dennis wasn’t even supposed to go, originally. He says they asked Michael Jordan first. Then Scottie Pippen. Both said no. “Then they asked me,” says Dennis. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll go.’ Little did I know… ”