What's the deal with Dennis Rodman? North Korea trips tarnish Hall of Famer's legacy

Dennis Rodman wasn’t always a punchline.

Believe it or not, Rodman used to be known for his theatrics on a basketball court. Before the wedding dress, before the Saturday Night Live skits, and before he became the most bizarre athlete of our generation, he was actually known for being a pretty good basketball player.

His basketball feats are hard to remember based on his recent behavior. Yesterday Rodman went to North Korea to train basketball players for an exhibition game to celebrate Kim Jong Un’s birthday. It’s strange enough that Rodman is doing this, considering the swirling controversy around Jong Un. But in typical Rodman fashion, the weirdness gets turned up a notch, as he regularly refers to Jong Un as a friend.

No one takes Rodman seriously. His post-NBA career is filled with tabloid headlines and outlandish stories. There were the several, and frequent, arrests. He had alcohol problems, which were documented in reality shows. He wore women’s clothing and is known for piercings and tattoos. Basically, the modern-day Rodman is known for everything but basketball.

And that’s a shame. Because Rodman used to be a pretty good basketball player.

For fans under 25, he’s probably best know for partying like a rock star, and being the frequent star of rehab reality shows. But before the drag, dresses and overall debauchery, Rodman was a respected player and key cog on several NBA championship teams.

Rodman’s Hall of Fame career includes acting as the defensive anchor for the Bad Boy Pistons and early ’90s San Antonio Spurs. His basketball peak was when he was a key member of the “big three” on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams, teaming with Jordan and Scottie Pippen to help the Bulls win three NBA titles. During these stints, he won Defensive Player of the Year Awards, rebounding titles, was selected to All-Star teams, and earned five NBA championships.

Off the court he still made headlines for strange behavior. Donning the wedding dress during his autobiography book signing garnered attention. The relationships with celebrities did too. His statements often made news for the wrong reasons. None of this behavior was particularly surprising for Rodman.

But that was before Twitter, TMZ and the general public viewing every celebrity through a microscope. Now, when Rodman makes a visit to North Korea, it’s covered by every national publication. When he says he’s Jong Un’s friend, it’s tweeted by thousands of people instantly.

That may be what Rodman wants, because these visits to North Korea make little sense. He claims to be teaching basketball, but it certainly looks like a lame excuse for Rodman to get back in the spotlight that he so desperately craves.

For a person that dominated the news cycle, mostly for his celebrity, it must be difficult for Rodman to accept just how irrelevant he has become. He’s a former movie and television personality, and that fame he surely misses.

We used to talk about Rodman. Whether the conversation was good or bad didn’t matter, as long as we were talking. His visits to North Korea get people talking. Whether you think he’s interesting or an idiot, he’s unarguably thrust himself back onto the tabloid pages.

Maybe Rodman’s heart is pure, and he actually is doing this to bring basketball to a country not known for it. It seems though, that Rodman is looking to make a run at being a known celebrity again. He wants to be a reality star. He wants to be in terrible movies again. And most importantly, he wants us to remember him.

Many of us would’ve remembered him as an eccentric that was one of the best rebounders and defenders of all time. Instead, he’ll be remembered as a joke, known more for being a desperate, talentless, pseudo-celebrity than a five-time NBA champion.

He’s currently relevant. That’s what Rodman wants. Unfortunately, that relevancy is tarnishing his legacy.

Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace