Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Dennis Rodman, diplomat

Photographs of Dennis Rodman laughing while watching a basketball exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea, with Kim Jong-un, the leader of one of the world’s most repressive countries, may be some of the strangest sights in the history of accidental American diplomacy.

Not only did Kim attend the game Thursday and watch alongside Rodman, but he also invited Rodman, three Harlem Globetrotters and the Vice Media crew filming the trip for a documentary to his palace for a party, said Shane Smith, the founder of Vice Media, who dreamed up and organized the trip.

The group landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday with approval from North Korean authorities to conduct the exhibitions and film the documentary, but it was not promised that Kim would meet with the group.

“Apparently, he had a blast at the game,” Smith said, after speaking by phone with Ryan Duffy, a Vice Media correspondent who was on the trip. “So he invited them back to his home for a party, and they had a grand old time. Speeches were made — Dennis made a very nice one — and they were met with rounds of applause.”

The scene was particularly bizarre because of the tense relations between the United States and North Korea, which made that relationship more difficult recently by declaring it had conducted a nuclear test. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, went in January to try to persuade the leadership to allow Internet access for more than a fraction of its people, but he did not report meeting with Kim.

Basketball, though, apparently has the power to thaw most anything because Kim, like his father, Kim Jong-il, is said to be a devoted fan. Rodman and Kim Jong-un talked without a translator assisting them courtside. Duffy said that the two spoke in English but that Kim spoke only limited English and that a translator was used at the dinner.

***

In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un.

“He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.”

The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama.
“[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.

*** [7/2/13] ***

Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman has not spent his retirement with the sort of venerable remove we often like to see from past NBA greats. At various times since his final game in 2000, Rodman has fallen behind on child support payments, coached a topless women's basketball team, and, uh, released a children's book. In various ways, he seems addicted to attention and appears to need serious help.

Nevertheless, this February Rodman took part in an unofficial "diplomatic mission" to North Korea organized by Vice Media for their HBO television series (watch a clip here). On that trip, Rodman witnessed a basketball game between North Korean players and several Harlem Globetrotters, hobnobbed with dictator Kim Jong-un, and declared that he had a "friend for life." It was arguably the friendliest interaction between an American national and North Korea in several decades.


For his efforts, Rodman believes he deserves serious consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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