More than just about anyone in the sports world, Dennis Rodman knows firsthand what it’s like to come under attack just for being different.
So it should be no surprise that with the drag community enduring scorn and condemnation from scores of opportunistic politicians, Rodman would show up and offer his support in person — and monetarily.
On Tuesday night, the NBA legend dined at Roscoe’s Tavern in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood and attended the bar’s weekly Roscoe’s Drag Race show.
According to a report from Block Club Chicago’s Jake Wittich, the evening began with hosts Ari Gato and Kara Mel D’Ville engaging in banter premised around pretending the night was Gato’s birthday.
After noticing Rodman, Gato decided to work his presence into the act, announcing he promised to tip her $100 for her “birthday.”
Rodman fulfilled Gato’s birthday wish.
“My parents loved you, and seeing you be authentically you and expressing yourself in the way you did back in the day made them look at me and think my eccentricity could still be normal and that I could still be successful in life,” she said.
After that, Gato gave the mic to Rodman, who stated his unequivocal support for drag.
“I just want to say I love this community and y’all have to make sure y’all stick together and take care of each other,” he said.
Rodman uplifting the drag community echoes moments from his NBA career, when he did the same for LGBTQ fans everywhere. In a 1995 Sports Illustrated profile, Rodman spoke about his habit of frequent gay bars, and even said he visualizes being with another man.
“Hell, it’s not bad if you’re gay, it doesn’t make you any less of a person,” he said.
That statement, especially coming from a major pro athlete, was years ahead of its time.
SI’s accompanying feature photo featured Rodman proudly flaunting black lingerie, which might have been the first time that fashion item was featured on the magazine’s cover outside of the Swimsuit Issue.
Rodman continued to occasional wear drag in public as his celebrity peaked. For instance, when he attended the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, he wore a sparkling camisole and belly chain.
That night, host and former comedian Dennis Miller introduced Rodman as “the iconoclastic 6-foot-8 rebounding wizard of the San Antonio Spurs whose frequent hair color changes, veiled references to homoerotic activities, and innumerable body piercings have made him one of the least understood and most feared men in America.”
Sadly, Miller’s quip was indicative of the times. Rodman publicly proclaimed gay people should be treated like human beings, and and mainstream America responded by gawking at him.
No wonder he understands the vitriol that drag queens endure in 2023.
As time went on, Rodman set about serving lewks that would make a sequin crop top look like business casual attire.
The following year, he showed up to a New York City book signing in a wedding dress.
That iconic image landed Rodman on the front page of every tabloid in the country, and was undoubtedly a publicity stunt.
Still, Rodman’s impact was purely self-serving. As the above video shows, he was capable of getting ordinary fans to embrace an athlete flaunting femininity in public. Quite a feat indeed.
Post-retirement, Rodman has continued to show off his gender fluidity in public. In 2014, he found a way to mix that image with basketball, taking the court in Argentina in full drag.
The giant blonde mohawk was a nice touch, as if the category was “Nina Flowers, but make it rebound.”
Despite the attention-craving aspect of Rodman’s drag looks, the fact remains that he was one of the few sports stars unafraid to show off his gender bending side, especially during the much less LGBTQ-friendly 90s.
Now that numerous states are trying to take the drag community back to that era, Rodman has showed up again to prove he’s unequivocally on their side.
In this way, Rodman is an example for all other athletes to follow.