MIAMI -- Fame?
"I hate it," Dennis Rodman says. "Absolutely hate it."
Anything about it you like?
Rodman has been rambling for an hour. Cursing. Laughing extra long and loud. Acting the way he always has to hide the scared and scarred child buried underneath all that colorful armor. He is used to being the center of his attention, so he sermonizes in the disjointed way of someone who has spent decades gazing down upon nodding heads and stars-truck eyes without interruption. But now there is a long pause.
Anything at all you like about fame, Dennis?
"Not being alone," he finally says. He is as fascinating a cartoon as we've ever seen in sports, and cartoons aren't supposed to age. But Rodman wears his history and a lifetime of parties on his leathered skin now as he fights to stay young underneath the lip ring, the nose rings, the diamond teeth, the tattoos and the bejeweled T-shirt. He always has seemed fun, crazy and a little lost, and over the decades we've done a dysfunctional dance with his demons for peeps and profit: A voyeuristic America used the worst parts of him, and he used the worst parts of America, and you can see the subsequent damage in his chewed-up weariness as he approaches 50.
"I really should be dead," he says. "I've escaped death so many times. Not drugs. Not guns. Just self-inflicted - - - - . I suppose I should thank fame because without it I'd be dead or in jail. But I would love to take the money and - - - - -the fame."
Once, as a shy Detroit Pistons rookie, he wept before making a public appearance because he was so scared. Then he went on to star in his own MTV reality show. He has rocked on stage with Pearl Jam. Made a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Posed nude for PETA. He has written so many books -- four -- that he can't remember all their titles. This tall, shy, skinny pioneer was standing at the intersection where sports and entertainment collided, and he wears the accident's scars like a crash victim.
Why do you hate fame so much, Dennis?
"It's not me," he says.
But here's how fame helps:
By literally helping.
Rodman has a friend who is about to lose his $3 million waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale. Miles Brannan had his real-estate business collapse. He has had to sell his boat, his car, his jewelry, and he's going to lose his six-bedroom, six-bath mansion with the movie theater and game room next. It can be yours for $30. Rodman will be throwing you the housewarming party himself if you win the raffle at rodmanraffle.org. All Brannan gets out of the deal is less damage to his credit.
"I was on top of the world two or three years ago, but I've lost all my savings," Brannan says. "I don't sleep well at night. It has been nerve-racking, not knowing what tomorrow brings. A nightmare."
Here's what has happened in this economy: The rich have gotten a lot less rich and, by extension, the poor have gotten a lot more poor without the hand-me-down help of the rich. Charity is one of the first things to go when everyone is drowning together, but proceeds from this raffle go to Fort Lauderdale's Mission of St. Francis, which gives beds, classes and hope to the homeless. It has been helping the alcohol- and drug-dependent for four decades without any government aid, but the volunteers who teach in the building that needs a better roof, new paint and more than 18 beds couldn't get the attention they needed until Rodman brought his fame around their plight.
"Donations have dried up," says Jack Labarga, a Mission of St. Francis board member since 1980. "We may have to close down. This is the by far worst I've ever seen it."
Rodman himself was homeless once. His mother kicked him out of the house in 1980, and he says he spent nearly two years wandering the streets at night and sleeping in the backyards of friends and strangers. He stole and ended up in jail, which wasn't so bad because it was at least warm and there was a pillow. Rodman lives in Aventura, Fla., now and loves the South Beach nightlife, but you can find him there during the day, too, surrounded by the homeless, literally giving away one of the $200 shirts off his back.
Sure, there are parts of him that fame has rotted. Maybe love is one of them. He has been divorced three times. And he is going into rehab soon on a celebrity-addiction TV show.
"Everyone knows that I drink too much," he says.
One of his handlers interjects: "He's a work in progress."
"No," Rodman interrupts. "Say it like it is. When you have problems, in your family, in your life, you find an escape. Partying prevents me from being a major problem for me and for others."
He is one of the most unique basketball players we've ever seen, a five-time champion, and he's up for the Hall of Fame this year. He says he doesn't care if he makes it. Psychology 101. Reject it before it rejects you. Rodman's father's name was, no lie, Philander. Dennis never knew him. It has been reported that Philander Rodman has 27 kids by four women.
"Here I am, still living," Rodman says. "I love people. I'm still an infamous icon. I'm going to be a sports rock star until the day I die. But what I'm addicted to is living life."
He laughs and puts an arm around one of Brannan's three daughters.
"Being famous is a hard damn job," he says. "Might as well help people while doing it."
The trickle-down economics of fame: Rodman helps a little by merely holding out a famous hand.
His friend gets helped a little more by grabbing it.
And, together, they help each other and the homeless.
And the best part for all involved, not just him, is never feeling like you are all alone.