This is a letter about care.
When my hometown Detroit Pistons drafted you, I was drawn in and moved by your story, as told by the great Mitch Albom, about your dad who left and your mom who kicked you out of the house. About your time as a janitor and that mop you stuck through the gift-shop grate. About landing with a family who believed in you, getting into a junior college, then a university, then the NBA.
I cared because I wanted you to be a comeback story the likes of which the world had never seen.
Then I saw you play. Leaping like you were wearing anti-gravity hightops. Scarfing down rebounds like they were White Castle sliders. Diving for loose balls like a kid scrambling after piñata candy. Running the court like a gazelle. Playing to the crowd.
Energetic. Exuberant. Joyous.
I cared because I had never seen anyone play the game the way the Worm did.
I struck up conversations with you on two separate occasions at the old Mr. Sports bar in Farmington Hills, MI. You were surprisingly approachable, friendly, genuine and even—hard as it is to believe now—shy.
Moreover, I could sense something deeply endearing in you—perhaps kindness, perhaps gratitude, perhaps simple humanity—as you happily bought rounds for the patrons.
I cared because you seemed like a truly good human being.
I suffered watching your rare missed rebound in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals and your awkward jumper with under a minute remaining in Game 7 that cost us the championship.
I cared because I knew a sensitive person would take these miscues hard.
You battled back and earned a starting spot, two rings, two Defensive Player Of The Year awards.
I cared because you had turned your life around in a stunningly complete way, and I felt jubilant on your behalf.
I saw Pistons coach Chuck Daly, a man you considered the father you never had, resign. I heard about your painful divorce.
So I wasn't completely surprised when I read they had found you asleep in your truck with a loaded rifle in your lap in the Palace of Auburn Hills parking lot.
I cared because I was very worried about you.
Then you were gone. It wasn't just that you had exited to other NBA cities. It was that the Dennis Rodman we loved so dearly—the earnest, hard-working, warm-hearted regular guy—had vanished, replaced by someone whose external uniqueness fascinated the world, even as it hid the warm-hearted innocent inside you.
The dyed hair. The wedding dress. The tattoos. The piercings. The cameraman kicking incident.
The relationships with Madonna and Carmen Electra. The drinking and partying. The publicity and attention.
And yes, the rings and accolades and awards.
I cared because I remembered who you were, and I figured you needed this rebellious phase in your life to become the fully rounded person you deserved to be.
The phase never ended, even when your career did. You wrestled. You played basketball in leagues that were beneath you. You drank to incoherency on The Celebrity Apprentice, humiliating yourself in the process.
This year you came back for more thinly veiled condescension at the hands of the morally bankrupt Donald Trump, who deserves our derision for implicitly celebrating boorish behavior in the workplace, when in fact such behavior would in all likelihood get one fired, not hired.
You took things to a whole new level when you visited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even as his country not only tests nuclear weapons, but also appears potentially willing to sell said weapons to terrorists.
You say you don't condone Kim's actions—a man who has imprisoned and is starving hundreds of thousands of his own people while calling the United States a "sworn enemy" whom he's threatened to destroy—yet you're willing to take in basketball games, visit aquariums and even ice-skate with him.
And now the two of you are planning a vacation.
Dennis, I care because…well, because when someone makes it into my heart, they rarely if ever make it out.
The Dennis I grew up with, the Dennis who radiates humanity and enthusiasm, could, pun intended, worm his way into anyone's heart. I believe you are coming, as you always seem to be, from a good place.
Further, I believe our government is in no way innocent and pure. I believe, as you do, in love, not war. I believe in keeping the lines of communication open.
You are, in your own way, doing just that.
You even make a point of saying both United States President Barack Obama and Kim love basketball. Who knows: Maybe roundball is the common denominator that will bring our two countries together, just as the movie Breakfast At Tiffany's in the Deep Blue Something song of the same name brought the estranged couple together.
Maybe diplomacy is as simple as a pop song. And maybe you're just the right person to save the world.
The point is, Dennis, that's what could be at stake: the world.
You're a guy that, I think you would readily admit, has not been the most stable over the course of his lifetime. And you're hanging with a fellow who is more lethal than any jumper you ever swatted, and with respect, any verbal abuse from your mother you ever endured.
Far be it from me to say you're in over your head. You are, after all, a 6'7" man who played like a seven-footer.
But now you're playing a game that is much more dangerous than basketball. That in fact is not a game at all. One drink too many, one wrong word uttered, and God only knows what could happen, not just to you, but to the entire planet.
You see, Dennis, this situation is about more than simply caring.
It's about handling with care.
And Dennis, for that, we have people better qualified than you.
So as tough a defender as you were—and you were one of the toughest—this is one time it'd be more than okay to back off, to back down. It's probably even the wise thing to do, and the right thing to do.
If you really care.
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