For 15 years with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and other teams, Dennis Rodman was the baddest of the “Bad Boys” — a dirty, thuggish presence on the court who endeared himself to hometown fans by jumping, scratching, clawing, diving, pushing, and punching for every rebound he could get. He was one of the most dominant defensive presences in professional ball and was eventually named to the NBA Hall of Fame.
But off the court, Rodman has, shall we say, “issues.” Alcohol, manic episodes, arrests, domestic violence beefs to name a few. His public personae has always been marked by, well, weirdness. He dressed up as a bride to promote his 1996 biography. He changed hair color frequently — no color was too outlandish. He had more tats and piercings than could be counted.
Last February, Rodman somehow latched on to a group that toured North Korea giving basketball exhibitions. It is believed that North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Un was a Rodman fan from the time he spent in Europe going to school and when the two met, they hit it off immediately. Whatever the attraction was, Rodman came home singing Kim’s praises.
This past week, Rodman returned to North Korea at the invitation of Kim. The two friends apparently hung out together and had a great time.
But upon arriving in Beijing following his trip, Rodman lost it when questioned about Kim, and especially, when the press began to goad him about the fate of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been a prisoner of the North Korean government since late 2012. The North Koreans cancelled a high level diplomatic mission to discuss Bae’s release last summer and it was hoped that Rodman would use his friendship with Kim to secure the missionary’s freedom.
Rodman answered querries about Bae by unleashing an expletive-laced rant at President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the assembled press.
Though there had been speculations that during Rodman’s visit the detained American would be released, he said ahead of his visit he was going for “another basketball diplomacy tour.”
Wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, the 6-foot 7-inch Rodman emerged at Beijing’s international airport, a common waystation for travelers to and from North Korea, with an unlit cigar in his mouth.
“That’s not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae. Ask Obama about that. Ask Hillary Clinton,” he told a throng of reporters.
Kim and Rodman spent quality time together by having dinner and watching a basketball game during Rodman’s five-day trip, the North’s KCNA news agency reported.
The report added Kim warmly welcomed Rodman and had a “cordial talk”. Rodman reportedly expressed his thanks to the leader for spending time with him, saying Kim’s greeting is “an expression of good faith towards the Americans”.
Rodman showed reporters in Beijing pictures of him meeting Kim, and said he had given Kim a gift of his Bad Boy vodka, which “he loved”.
“He is my friend for life. I don’t care what you guys think about him. I don’t give a s**t about what people around the world think about him,” he added.
Rodman’s latest trip was sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.
“Ping Pong diplomacy” worked in China. Could “Basketball diplomacy” work in North Korea?
Unfortunately, Dennis Rodman is the wrong individual to promote contact with Americans in North Korea. His quirkiness may be attractive to Kim, but the Chinese were far less insular than the North Koreans and not half as paranoid. Rodman’s access to Kim has all the earmarks of a King summoning his favorite clown to entertain him — hardly the makings of a diplomatic breakthrough.
“Friend for life” or not, the US government would do well to steer clear of Rodman lest he commit some social or diplomatic faux pas while in North Korea that would lead to his arrest. Then the government would have two hostages in the hands of the North Koreans, doubling the difficulty in getting either one of them released.