Many countries see North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a tyrant. These feelings have only intensified after Kim had his uncle and former second-in-command, Jang Song Thaek, executed last week, as well as another 80 people executed for puzzling crimes like possessing a Bible or watching South Korean movies.
Nevertheless, former NBA star Dennis Rodman sees something redeemable in Kim as the two have struck an odd and unlikely friendship. And Rodman furthered this friendship by touching down in Pyongyang with plans to hold an exhibition basketball game in the city.
The game is set for January 8th, which happens to be Kim’s 31st birthday. Rodman promises to have 12 ex-NBA players on the court for this game, though no names have been provided just yet. The two-time NBA All-Star also plans to help train a group of North Korean basketball players during his stay.
As for his view on the recent brutal executions in the country, Rodman has avoided giving any substantial comments on the matter. “I can’t control what they do with their government, I can’t control what they say or how they do things here,” he said. “I’m just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country.”
Rodman added, “I’ve come over to see my friend, and people always give me a little hard time about me saying that. I’m very proud to say he’s my friend, because he hasn’t done anything to put a damper, to say any negative things about my country.”
The 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has maintained that his goal isn’t to influence politics or human rights in North Korea, but rather promote dialogue and understanding between the West and the embattled country. And he’s hoping that bringing a group of ex-NBA players will help further this goal.
“North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see, so these players can actually see, that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media.” He went on to say that his mission would be complete if the NBA players say “some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country.”
Rodman and Kim Jong-un have maintained a very strange, controversial friendship ever since February of 2013, when the former basketball star first visited North Korea. Rodman is the first-known American to have actually met and sat down with Kim. Since their initial encounter, Rodman has gone on to call Kim a “friend for life” and encouraged President Barack Obama to “pick up the phone and call” North Korea’s supreme leader. Not surprisingly, this urging failed to move President Obama.
As for Dennis Rodman’s basketball career, he’s known as one of the most eccentric and hardest-working players to have ever donned an NBA uniform. His tattoos and piercings made him easily recognizable to basketball fans around the world, including Kim. Rodman’s rebounding numbers have also given him fame, including a seven-year stretch from 1992-98 where he won the league rebounding title every season.
He boasts career averages of 7.3 PPG and 13.1 RPB. The 13.1 RPB is actually the highest rebounding average since 1973. This is even more impressive when you consider that Rodman’s height of 6’7″ is a few inches shorter than most other top rebounders in NBA history.