On that night in 2014, Dennis Rodman was the prized guest at a dinner in his honor in Pyongyang and, at least in that moment, perhaps closer than any American to having the North Korean leader’s ear — and the basketball star was drunk.
Rodman has battled substance abuse since his NBA career ended in 2000, and that state dinner in North Korea’s capital put his drinking problems on full display.
Much has been opined about Rodman’s most recent trip to North Korea, his fifth visit to the country. Pundits have asked whether the Trump administration knew about it or sent him. Rodman and the State Department have both declined to comment.
But one thing is clear about Rodman from his last trip: He is capable of inflicting a substantial amount of damage on himself.
According to the Guardian, three years ago the American who had the ear of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “veering between singing jovial karaoke one minute and angry hollering the next.”
And that was just the first night. In coming days, there were drinks as Rodman and other American basketball players partied after an exhibition game to mark Kim’s birthday. And, by Rodman’s own admission, there were drinks before a slurred CNN interview during which he angrily defended the controversial trip.
“I don’t give a s— what … I don’t give a rat’s a– what the hell you think. I’m saying to you look at these guys here,” he barked at CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “Look at them. They’re down here for one thing. They came here.”
“People around the world. Around the world. I’m going to do one thing. You’re a guy behind the mic right now. We are the guys here to do one thing. We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we’re going to take? Do you, sir?”
There have been scattered reports of Rodman drinking and partying on previous trips to North Korea – he described Kim’s yacht, private island and fine taste in tequila after a 2013 trip – but the 2014 trip was the most publicized and, for Rodman, the most devastating.
By the end of that booze-addled 2014 visit, Kim refused to meet with Rodman because of his near-constant state of intoxication, CNN reported. And the former NBA players who defended Rodman on national television were embarrassed, regretful and threatening to bolt.
“Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later,” former NBA player Charles Smith, who was in North Korea with Rodman, told the Associated Press.
Soon after returning to the United States, Rodman was in rehab.
“Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him,” his agent, Darren Prince, told the AP. “He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused.”
After that trip, Rodman told the AP: “I was trying to get this game going and get everything going in North Korea. It was a lot.”
He did another interview – this one from the rehabilitation center – in which he dodged a question about whether he was drunk during his satellite interview with Cuomo.
“I don’t need to drink,” he said. “I don’t need to do anything. I went to rehab just to sort things out. That’s it. I’m not an alcoholic. An alcoholic drinks seven days a week. I don’t drink seven days a week. When I drink, I don’t hurt nobody, I don’t have no DUIs, nothing like that.”
He told the Associated Press that he planned to return to the rehabilitation center every six months. But it’s unclear whether he made good on that statement in the years between his North Korea trips.
This trip, Rodman said in an announcement, was sponsored by PotCoin, a site that makes it easy for marijuana users to securely pay sellers.