Dennis Rodman is off to North Korea for a fourth time. This time, the former NBA player returns with an all-star basketball crew of his own, set to play an exhibition game for dictator Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. Rodman repeated once again that he “loves” his “friend” Kim, and is “not worried about his uncle.”
Rodman, a self-proclaimed “basketball diplomacy” ambassador to North Korea and one of the few Americans to ever meet Kim Jong-Un, addressed media at the Beijing airport on the way to Pyongyang, and spoke more than usual about the political climate in the country. Rodman has routinely ignored pleas by human rights activists to either use his stature within the North Korean government to advocate for the rights of people there or justify in some way how it is moral for him to perform for a madcap dictator. This time, he at least attempted to explain.
Naturally, he had nothing negative to say about Kim because he “loves” him, but he did say that if he ever had any political disagreement with the leader, he would approach it delicately. “I am not going to sit there and go ‘Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing,'” he explained in a statement the AFP says was “sprinkl[ed]… with expletives.” This approach would be wrong “because he is my friend first and I love him.” He told the AP that North Korea was not “that bad” and compared his work to the Olympics, arguing that his sports exhibitions are something of a mini-Olympics because “everyone comes together.”
Rodman also finally addressed Kim’s execution of his uncle and second-in-command, Jang Song-Thaek. “I am not worried about his uncle,” he responded when asked about the issue. The execution and subsequent purges occurred around the same time that Rodman was last in Pyongyang training the North Korean basketball team in preparation for the upcoming match, and Rodman was unable to see his friend Kim during that visit. He did not take offense, however, explaining that Kim “has another greater job to do for his country.”
Rodman is not traveling to North Korea alone this time–his fourth since first arriving in Pyongyang with Vice Media, whereupon he first called Kim “really awesome” and his predecessors Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung “great leaders.” Among his crew to perform Kim’s birthday exhibition game against North Korean athletes are NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, guard Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith, and Vin Baker. Smith also spoke to the press, claiming that the real reason behind the trip was that everyone on the team “really care[s] about humanity.” They will be playing against North Korea’s national team on January 8, Kim’s birthday.