Dennis Rodman’s four-day trip to North Korea as part of an American television series about “basketball diplomacy” has ended but not without some unforgettable memories and friendships -- one of them with none other than Kim Jong-un.
A photo of the two new friends watching a friendly game between 12 North Korean players and four Harlem Globetrotters, who were divided into two teams, even made the front page of Korea's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.
Just before Rodman left Pyongyang, he told Chinese news agency Xinhua that Kim “is like his grandfather and his father, who are great leaders,” adding, “He is an awesome kid, very honest and loves his wife so much.”
Kim Jong-un is the grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who established North Korea, and the son of the late Kim Jong-Il, both of whom ruled the isolated, impoverished, heavily repressed nation with an iron fist.
And though many speculate that Kim Jong-un will be just as strict a leader as his predecessors, Rodman was able to forge a friendship with Kim over their mutual interest in basketball.
“Personally, I am a friend of Marshal Kim Jong-un and the DPRK people,” Rodman said after sitting courtside with Kim at the basketball game. The two were seen laughing and chatting without translators on the sidelines of the game.
In another story by the Associated Press, the flamboyant ex-NBA star was asked what he thought of the North Korean leader. Rodman responded, “He’s proud, his country likes him -- not like him, love him, love him. ... Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”
That may all seem very bizarre, coming from someone who likely knows about the famines and brutal repression in the country. But with tension between the U.S. and North Korea high, especially after the North’s most recent nuclear testing, perhaps getting one American to love Kim is a start to improved relations.