ABC News reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources, that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un formally demanded that the United States provide “famous basketball players” to entertain Kim in Pyongyang as part of ongoing negotiations aimed at ending the rogue communist regime’s illegal nuclear program.
The report cites two separate unknown “U.S. officials” confirming that Kim’s regime made a formal request in writing for the basketball players to visit North Korea. Kim was reportedly so adamant about having access to elite players that his negotiators urged their U.S. counterparts to place that promise in the expected agreement between Kim and American President Donald Trump following their in-person meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.
Trump abruptly walked out of that meeting saying the North Koreans were making unreasonable demands and that there was not enough common ground for progress. The leaders did not issue a written statement or sign an agreement at the summit.
ABC News notes that, according to their sources, cultural exchanges ranked high on the list of topics important to the North Koreans. They reportedly also requested “the exchange of orchestras between the two countries.”
The report did not list or specify who the basketball players Kim wished to have visit him were, or if the North Koreans had a list of athletes that they shared along with their request. It is not clear if Kim follows contemporary professional basketball in the United States given the limitations of the North Korean internet and lack of outside media in the country under his tyrannical rule, or if he is aware only of older basketball stars like frequent visitor Dennis Rodman.
The State Department did not confirm the report or the allegations regarding Kim’s demands.
Kim Jong-un has been public about his love of basketball and his relationship with Rodman for years, likely becoming acquainted with the sport while studying abroad as a youth in Switzerland. Amid conducting illegal nuclear weapons tests and threatening a nuclear strike on the United States with frequency, Kim found the time to welcome Rodman and offer him the chance to train a North Korean basketball team in 2013. A year later, Rodman recruited a team of retired NBA players, many of whom were struggling financially at the time, to travel with him to Pyongyang and play an exhibition game for Kim’s birthday. Some of the players, embarrassed upon their return to the United States, claimed they were not aware of the nature of the trip. Rodman, who said he paid them between $30,000-$35,000 to go, declared that this allegation was “bullshit.”
During the Trump era, Rodman, who knew the president through his appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, visited Pyongyang with the financial backing of a marijuana-themed cryptocurrency known as “Pot Coin.” During that visit, he brought as a gift a copy of Trump’s book The Art of the Deal.
Rodman flew to Singapore last year during Trump’s historic in-person meeting with Kim and took credit on behalf of his “sports diplomacy” for making the meeting happen. He also said he received a call from the White House thanking him for his ties to Kim.
The relationship between Kim and Trump has soured since Singapore. Trump and Kim enjoyed the first day of their summit in Hanoi this year. At the time, Trump said that he had a “good” dialogue with Kim and expected that “a lot of things are going to be solved” the next day. Shortly after the second day of talks began, he walked out.
“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” Trump said. North Korean officials denied the accusation, stating instead that they had offered a “realistic proposal” to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear research site, an enrichment facility. The officials did not reveal requests for basketball players or orchestras in their objections about Trump.
In remarks last month during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kim reportedly accused Trump of acting in “bad faith.” He has since begun ordering the firing of several short-range missiles, a move indicating that Kim may soon once again violate international law with a larger ballistic missile launch. None of the missiles have yet to cause any damage or crash into any targets, though one recently approached the Sea of Japan.