SLAM DUNK: Rodman is in North Korea with the Harlem Globetrotters
FLAMBOYANT, BIZARRE and outrageous are just a few adjectives that have been used to describe NBA icon Dennis Rodman, and for the very first time North Koreans got to meet the ex-Chicago Bulls player in their own country, along with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Rodman, nicknamed “The Worm” from his professional playing days, flew into Pyongyang from Beijing and the ostentatious showman has become an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time when US and North Korea relations are fraught.
The country’s regime recently carried out nuclear missile tests, prompting international condemnation.
The country’s leader Kim Jong Un, who rules over the world’s last hereditary communist regime, is known to be a Chicago Bulls fan – the young leader apparently followed them during their successful era in the 1990s – a period in which Rodman claimed three NBA titles with the team.
The Globetrotters and Rodman are in Pyongyang for a Vice Media production scheduled for broadcast on HBO in April, according to Vice founder Shane Smith.
He told Associated Press that the Americans were there to engage in some “basketball diplomacy” – such as holding a basketball camp for youngsters, playing with locals and testing their skills against professional North Korean athletes.
“Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) strange? In a word, yes,” Smith said.
“But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.”
The choice of Rodman to visit the impoverished country is a decision not many would have expected, yet the former Bulls star’s agent Darren Prince said his client did not hesitate to make the trip.
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“When I discussed with Dennis the invite to go to North Korea and meet with Kim Jong (Un) and the Korean national basketball team as part of a documentary for HBO, he knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a fun shoot around playing basketball and would give him the chance to speak directly to Kim Jong (Un) that the only way to go is with peace not war,” Prince said.
The DPRK is still technically in a state of war against the US since no formal peace declaration has been signed between the two countries since the Korean War in the 1950s.
The country has been testing the patience of the international community when it enacted an underground nuclear trial two weeks ago, despite a UN ban against such activity. Its military also earlier launched a satellite into space on a long-range rocket – which was viewed as another threat to regional peace.
When Kim Jong Un inherited power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, the inexperienced ruler decided that sport and technology would be two significant policy areas under his leadership.
Basketball, along with football, is one of the most loved sports in the country that has a population which has little access to the outside world. Nonetheless, many are familiar with Rodman , and especially his old team-mate Michael Jordan.
Although maybe not as famous as Jordan, the 51-year-old Rodman is unlikely to tone down the charm or anything else during his visit to the secretive, totalitarian nation.