Darren Richardson

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, fresh off his self-styled “basketball diplomacy” mission to North Korea where he spent quality time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will be representing the United States at the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer Tuesday afternoon in Caracas.

“Yes, it's official. We’re sending Dennis Rodman,” State Department spokesman Carmen D. Battery told reporters late Tuesday evening. “We feel that Rodman will set the proper tone of respect and bring a measure of dignity to the memorial services.”

A teary-eyed Rodman appeared Tuesday evening on a professional wrestling program airing on a cable access channel in San Bernardino, Calif., to pay his initial respects to Chavez.

“Guess what? I never met him but hey, you know, he was like, hey man…he didn’t want to do war, no, he didn’t want that,” Rodman said, tears streaking the heavy mascara on his face. “He would have been my friend. He … me… we… I…I will cry at his funeral. But you know, guess what? He did not want war.”

Rodman, best known for his defense and rebounding prowess while playing in the NBA, said Chavez inspired him with his cool red beret. “Man, he was style. You know, dude, like, in style. Guess what? I am not a diplomat, but man, Chavez, he looked good in that beret. He looked like a man. Like a strong man, and humble, too.”

The mostly Republican crowd booed Rodman, as scripted, and local wrestler Uncle Sam Whoopass, who wears a red, white and blue top hat, a loincloth sporting the “Don’t Tread on Me!” logo and turquoise cowboy boots when wrestling, threatened the former NBA star by picking up a chair and throwing it in his general direction. The chair broke into several pieces.

“Don’t hate me!” Rodman barked, reminding the crowd that he would be returning for a steel cage match with Whoopass on Mar. 17 in a much-ballyhooed St. Patrick’s Day Showdown.

The St. Patrick's Day Showdown also features a women’s match (no hair-pulling) between former half-term governor of Alaska Sarah Palin and 1994 Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding. Former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank will be the special referee for both matches, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be on hand to sell snow cones and bags of candy corn. Proceeds from the event will go to the North Korean bobsledding team, which is in dire need of bobsleds.

Rodman has come under criticism in some quarters for his North Korean trip, but he has vowed to return to spend more time with Kim. He has described the 28-year-old dictator as both a kid and a man. “He is like a man to me, but he’s a kid. He’s 28, man. Twenty-eight. He does not want war, but Obama should call him. They both like basketball. Why not? Why not?”

At press time, Rodman’s travel agent was reportedly checking the price of flights from Caracas to Pyongyang.

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