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Original Issue

A Diplomatic Wormhole

At a top-secret,secure location near Washington, former NBA star Dennis Rodman sits across a table from a dark-suited senior State Department official.

AGENT: Once again, Mr. Rodman, we appreciate your agreeing to this debriefing.

RODMAN:[slouching in his chair, feet up on the table] Whatever, bro. If you appreciate it so much, why did your guys rough me up when I got here?

AGENT: We apologize, but we've never had someone enter the compound with so many piercings, sir. You set off every security sensor in the building. It was standard protocol to restrain you until we could confirm that you were not a threat.

RODMAN: It's cool, brother. Not the first time I've been thrown to the ground and handcuffed. I remember this time, when I was dating Madonna—

AGENT: If we could stick to the matter at hand, sir. We know that you flew into Pyongyang last week along with three Harlem Globetrotters at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that the pot-stirring media outlet VICE sent a film crew with you for an HBO documentary.

RODMAN: That's what those cameras were for? Man, I thought we were shooting some kind of foreign Celebrity Apprentice. No wonder I never did find Donald Trump.

AGENT: The U.S. government has a tense relationship with North Korea, Mr. Rodman, and the international community is highly concerned about the underground nuclear weapons test it conducted there a few weeks ago. Can you explain why you agreed to consort with a government hostile to the U.S.?

RODMAN: Why? I'm 51, bro. Been out of the NBA for 13 years. Did you see anybody putting me on magazine covers for my 50th birthday? I may be a Hall of Famer with five rings, but I'm not A-list anymore. Some of us have to work a little harder to stay relevant.

AGENT: Actually, our intelligence indicates that you agreed to the trip because when you were asked if you wanted to go to Pyongyang, you thought it was an after-hours club in Manhattan.

RODMAN: Well, yeah. That too.

AGENT: What was the nature of your conversations with Kim?

RODMAN: They were all about basketball and partying, my two favorite subjects. Turns out the little dude was a huge Bulls fan back in the day. We watched an exhibition game with the Globetrotters and some local players, then we ate and drank a lot. I liked the guy. Told him to text me next time he's in the States.

AGENT: About that, Mr. Rodman. Your statements about Kim and his family were, in our opinion, ill-advised to say the least. You were quoted as saying he is an "awesome guy" and that his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, were "great leaders." In fact, sir, they presided over a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. While you were being treated to a feast, the regime continued to imprison many of its citizens and deprive them of food, shelter and water. There is nothing awesome about that.

RODMAN: No, you're right, brother. Can I tell you something? I wasn't really thinking when I said that stuff. I mean, I'm the Worm, you know what I'm saying? I wear wedding dresses and do reality shows. I used to be commissioner of the Lingerie Football League. I just say and do crazy stuff. Nobody takes me seriously, bro.

AGENT: Yes, we know. But strangely enough, you are perhaps the most popular American among North Koreans at the moment. You could be a valuable liaison between our countries.

RODMAN: Whoa, this is some real Homeland s---, huh? You want me to be a spy? Go back there in disguise? I still have the wedding dress.

AGENT: No, this would be more of a diplomatic assignment. Though we would not publicly acknowledge you were working with us.

RODMAN: You want me to help you, but you want to act like I'm not part of the team? That's cold, bro. Michael and Scottie used to do the same thing.

AGENT: Well, there is precedent for easing global tensions through sport, Mr. Rodman. During a tournament in Tehran two weeks ago members of the U.S. wrestling team posed for photos with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—we're not his biggest fans either—in a show of solidarity against the IOC's decision to drop wrestling from the Olympics. And let's not forget Zhuang Zedong, the Chinese table tennis star—he died last month—who inadvertently helped thaw relations between communist China and the U.S. In 1971, when Chairman Mao saw photos of Zhuang sharing a laugh with an American player during the world championships, he invited the U.S. team for a visit, and Ping-Pong diplomacy was born. Within a few months the U.S. lifted its trade embargo and Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit the People's Republic. A tiny ball, Mao would say, had moved the great ball of earth.

RODMAN: I got you, bro. Just one thing, though. I don't play Ping-Pong. This would be more like beer-pong diplomacy.

AGENT: Duly noted, sir. Your country thanks you.

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Dennis Rodman: Is he a celebrity tourist or a geopolitical pawn?

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