Everybody laughs at Dennis Rodman. He is America's favorite, cross-dressing, tattooed metalhead. His piercings set off alarms at airports five minutes before he arrives. He's dyed his hair every shade of the color chart wheel, plus a few other hues not seen before on this planet. He was married to Carmen Electra and linked romantically with Madonna — but then, who hasn't been? He wore a wedding dress and full make up to promote his 1996 autobiography, claiming that he was bisexual and marrying himself. And his nickname is "The Worm."
Rodman is also a seven-time NBA rebounding champion, and a two-time defensive player of the year. He wears five NBA championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and had his number retired by the Detroit Pistons. He entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Rodman's drunken bellicosity has cost him his credibility, which is too bad since he's one of the only living Americans to have had a laugh with North Korea's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-un.
Rodman went to North Korea in 2013 to assist their national basketball program and returned the next year with a group of former NBA players for a tour of the country. Afterward, Rodman claimed Dear Leader was a "friend for life," and that Obama should, "pick up the phone and call Kim," since the two leaders were basketball fans. But he was drunk and verbose upon his return. His agent claimed Rodman had been drinking heavily to an extent "that none of us had seen before," and he promptly entered a rehab facility.
But Rodman's message was simple: North Koreans are nuts over basketball. So, before we enter a second Korean War over a Seth Rogen stoner movie, perhaps we should consider invading with basketball. There is a precedent. In 1971, the U.S. Table Tennis Team was invited to China, where no American had been since 1949. On the team was a long-haired, redheaded hippie named Glenn Cowan, and everywhere the team went Cowan was mobbed by fans who were perhaps seeing what freedom was for the first time. The press dubbed it "Ping-Pong Diplomacy," and it helped thaw relations with China leading up to Richard Nixon's famous handshake with Mao Zedong, who enjoyed a game of ping-pong himself. Nelson Mandela once said: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."
Speaking of sports, the island of Cuba, one of the last existing communist countries, produces great baseball players. Even Fidel Castro was reputed to be a decent pitcher. Cuban baseball stars like El Duque and Livan Hernandez risked their lives to come to this country. But with Obama's singular destruction of the mummified, Cold-War corpse of calamities lasting from the Kennedy administration, we may soon see some free-agents.
The fastest way to transform a communist country is to give them a Major League Baseball franchise. The professional suits should get in there fast. I believe there's already a pretty good ball club in Havana called the Leones. There's a team in Toronto, and they're already looking at Mexico City, so let's give the other half of the hemisphere a chance to compete. New York could play Havana, and they could bring back all those posters that say, "Cuba, si. Yanqui, no,"
Over a half century, the CIA has tried to kill Castro by exploding cigars, poison pills, bacteria, LSD, snipers, bombers, and thallium salts to make his beard fall out. Fidel said, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal." Before another Bay of Pigs, let's invade with pro baseball, Coca-Cola, and Mickey D's.
Given the chance, I would love to go to Cuba and habla a little espanol. I'd like to see the marketplace and the old cars. A new car in Cuba is a '57 Buick, but now they can finally get some genuine GM parts. In return, we get the near-mythical Cuban cigar. I smoked a few Hav-a-Tampa jewel sweets with the wooden tip back when I was in college until I realized that the taste was disgusting, but even I would smoke a Cuban cigar just for the hell of it. I could pull one out at a party and scream, "Say hello to my little friend." We can also learn how to say "banana daiquiri" in Spanish and see some of those racy shows where Hyman Roth would never go. I'm sorry. I just love Godfather references.
One thing's for sure: The Castros can't live forever, and their successors won't have personal connections to the revolution. Maybe an MLB all-star team could tour Cuba like the ping-pong team did China. Then dry out Rodman and make him our ambassador to North Korea. Even Lil' Kim plays a little ball. Wilt Chamberlain and Jong-un each hold the record for scoring 100 points in a game. The only difference was that Chamberlain did it with other players on the floor. Let's play ball for a change.
Randy Haspel writes the "Recycled Hippies" blog, where a version of this column first appeared.