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Mr. Rodman's Neighborhood

A visit to the home court of an ex-NBA star and unrepentant party animal, where neighbors build fences and visitors stumble in the night.

August 14, 2000|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis Rodman hops out of a dark SUV--not his Humvee with the naked ladies painted on it, a different one--and saunters up to his pink stucco beach house. The outfit is T-shirt casual, a blue baseball cap perched on his chemically yellowed hair. As he opens the garage refrigerator, he lets out a couple of wild war whoops, a portent of the night to come.

Within minutes, the fire pit on his patio burns brightly, and so does the party. Sugar Ray's hit song "Fly" booms down the street.

It is 12:45 a.m.

At a time when most people are at least thinking of sleep, Rodman is ready to rock. Now that his basketball career has flamed out, the rebounding legend sports a new distinction, and it isn't another hair color or body piercing: Newport Beach police get more complaints about Rodman's house than any other spot in the city. More than any restaurant. More than any bar.

Parties on the weekend, parties during the week. Impromptu parties born after midnight that boogie on to 6 a.m. Nearly 70 police visits in two years, more than $3,000 in fines for violating noise ordinances--nothing stops those parties.

It's too much for some neighbors in west Newport Beach, a community thick with shoulder-to-shoulder duplexes that often are rented out during the summer. If you sneeze, your neighbor will hear, and at Rodman's parties, people are doing a lot more than sneezing.

"It was just awful," huffed Michal Poplawski, 56, a Phoenix resident who has been bringing her family to Newport Beach on vacation for more than two decades. "I don't understand why he should be allowed to treat people that way."

Now, this was never the quietest corner of Newport to begin with. Not the swanky sections like Lido Isle or Linda Isle, populated by silver-haired real estate moguls with yachts bobbing at their private docks. No, long before the coming of the ex-NBA star, Mr. Rodman's Neighborhood was a beachfront party zone.

And thus some of Rodman's full-time neighbors are surprisingly insouciant about the din. West Newport isn't for the sensitive sleeper, they say. Some, instead of complaining about his parties, are going to them.

"This is party central, and 48th Street is the 50-yard line," said Doug Wagner, 57, who lives across the street.

And, despite all the hoo-ha about his early-morning revelry, Rodman's not such a bad guy, some folks here say, making time for coffee with an elderly householder, plunking down $20 for a lemonade at a kids' stand.

Is this the same Rodman who drove the retiree next door into a photographic frenzy, snapping a whole roll of film chronicling the post-party trash?

The snapshots show overflowing brown paper bags and boxes heaped against Herb Marshall's house in the narrow alley he shares with his celebrity neighbor--while Rodman's side was kept pristine. The bags (they indicate, by the way, that Rodman uses HomeGrocer.com) spilled their contents for a good 20 feet along Marshall's wall. And they reeked of rotting food.

Marshall finally spent $6,000 this summer to erect a 6-foot-high brick wall along the skinny space between his house and the one Rodman owns to keep the garbage--and Rodman groupies--on the other side.

Still, party-goers park in front of Marshall's garage, blocking his exit. When he complains to Rodman--who declined to be interviewed for this story--"he says, 'Call a tow truck. It's not mine,' " Marshall said. "He takes no responsibility. He shows such total disregard, total disrespect."

The parties could dent Marshall financially as well. He lives in the upstairs unit of his duplex, renting out the floor below. But he almost lost a week's rental this summer after an incoming tenant from Texas found out the house was next to Rodman's. The woman tried to find another place, but the city was booked for the summer.

She is yet another of the out-of-towners who shell out $2,000-plus a week for a Pacific beachfront escape from noise and bustle--but may not find that sought-after peace and quiet. These are the ones who sleep--or try to sleep--closest to Casa de Rodman, the ones most likely to make a bleary-eyed grab for the phone and vent their outrage to the police.

On the Poplawskis' first morning, the family, babies and all, was awakened at 4 a.m., said Michal Poplawski. Five mornings later, the walls trembled with reverberating bass when police showed up at 4:30 a.m.--for the second time that night.

Rodman seemed unmoved by the family's sleep deprivation. When officers arrived July 22 to investigate her call, Rodman told them, according to the police report, that he didn't care about disturbing those neighbors because they're "just renters."

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