Forty years ago ping-pong diplomacy brought the US and China closer together. Now it’s basketball’s turn.
Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned from a four days in North Korea today, suggesting his visit helped to foster a greater mutual understanding between the US and Pyongyang – or, at least, between himself and the Supreme Leader of the reclusive Communist state.
Rodman described 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, his father Kim Jong-iI, and his grandfather Kim II-sung, the founder and “Eternal President” of the DPRK, as “great leaders”. The tattooed, pierced, bleached-blonde star told the Associated Press Kim was “proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him... Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”
Rodman spent four days in North Korea with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and a film crew from Vice magazine, who were shooting a documentary. On Thursday, he chatted with Kim in English as they watched a basketball game involving the Americans and North Korea’s self-styled “Dream Team”.
Kim, who took power after his father’s death in 2011, is a fan of the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three NBA titles in the 1990s. The game ended in a 110-110 tie, after which Rodman addressed the crowd, saying Kim and the North Korean people had in him, “a friend for life”.
The American party was reportedly invited to a lavish dinner at the leader’s residence, which Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy described as “an epic feast.”
The visit came weeks after the Pyongyang leadership defied UN bans on atomic and missile activity by conducting an underground nuclear weapons test. The country’s economy is crippled, while the UN estimates a third of the children are malnourished. Human Rights Watch characterises the Kim regime’s human rights record as “dire”.
Vice founder Shane Smith masterminded the trip. He said: “We knew that Kim’s a big lover of basketball and it was our intention that we would have a good will mission of something that’s fun.
“A lot of times, things are serious and everybody’s so concerned with geopolitics that we forget just to be human beings.”