Dennis Rodman and North Korea made an unlikely pair, and a bizarre headline, earlier this year, but six months after traveling there for the first time, Rodman was in Beijing preparing for his second trip to Pyongyang. The former NBA player and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee left for the reclusive nation on Tuesday from Beijing, to see his “friend,” dictator Kim Jong-Un.
The often wild-mannered and headline-grabbing Rodman made his first appearance next to Kim Jong-Un in February, when he was accompanied by a Vice Media video crew and a group of trick-shot basketball players from the Harlem Globetrotters. Kim -- a noted fan of NBA basketball, particularly of NBA players who were stars in the '90s -- and Rodman apparently became friends quickly during the first basketball diplomacy trip. Upon his return from the North, Rodman went so far as to tell reporters, “I love him,” referring to Kim, whom he described as “really awesome.”
Rodman says the purpose of his second trip will be the same, despite rumors suggesting hes visit is to help gain the freedom of detained American citizen Kenneth Bae. “I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” Rodman told Reuters in Beijing prior to his departure. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour."
Rodman says he hopes to use the leader’s mutual interest in basketball as an opening to improve relations between the two countries. “I’m just trying to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the Marshal,” Rodman said. “Try to start a basketball league over there, something like that.”
Rodman's visit comes after a recent trip by Robert King, an American diplomat, was canceled last year. King was to be part of a special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, which was planned in the hopes of negotiating the release of the 44-year-old Bae, from Lynwood, Wash., who is currently serving a 15-year hard labor sentence in North Korea. The trip to Pyongyang by King had been canceled due to North Korea’s disapproval over routine joint military drills performed by the U.S. and South Korea.
The last time the public heard from Bae was in early July, when an exclusive interview had been obtained by the pro-North Korean organization Choson Sinbo, based in Tokyo. That interview said Bae portrayed himself as being as only mildly uncomfortable in prison. “I mainly work at the farm in this prison, from morning to dinnertime, eight hours a day,” Bae said. “People here are very considerate, so I’m not working too hard. But my health is not the best condition, so there are some difficulties."
Rodman’s five-day tour of North Korea is being sponsored by Paddy Power, a Dublin-based online bookmaker, which specializes in online betting and sports betting.