Two months after celebrating Kim Jong Un’s birthday in Pyongyang, North Korea, former basketball champion Dennis Rodman has a lot of regrets. In an emotional, sometimes teary, interview with ESPN, Rodman recounted his highly controversial trips to the repressive nation.
In an interview with ESPN’s Mark Schwarz, a choked-up Rodman said his only intention in going to North Korea was to “do great things in life,” adding that many of his critics are “narrow-minded.”
Decked out in an ensemble of a feathered fedora, sunglasses and a lavender scarf -- an outfit that's not so outlandish for him -- the ex-basketball player was much more somber than he has been in previous interviews.
“It just sucks -- and people … I just wish they understood the whole purpose of why I went to North Korea,” Rodman said of his critics. “I wish they did.”
Schwarz continued to question Rodman’s actions during his trip, which many in the U.S. perceived as inappropriate considering the nuclear-warmongering Kim’s regime direct threats toward the United States, on top of the many reports of human rights violations. Specifically, Schwarz asked about his most recent trip, in early January, when Rodman, along with a group of former NBA “all-stars,” flew to the DPRK to play in an exhibition basketball game in honor of ruler Kim's birthday.
“At least someone tried,” Rodman said of his engagement with Kim, which spanned four visits over the past year. “So that’s how I look at it. You know, I don’t want to be a hero, I don’t want to be this, I don’t want to be that. I just wanted to be, just do happy things and do great things in life. That’s all I wanted to. That’s it.”
“If you don’t ever want me to go back there again, I won’t go back,” he said. “If I put anyone in danger, I apologize. I apologize to them on TV, having drinks and stuff like that, and saying stuff that some people thought was way out of line.”
During all of Rodman’s visits, North Korea was holding an American citizen, Kenneth Bae, prisoner. In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Rodman suggested that Bae was sentenced to hard labor because he had done something wrong, asking Cuomo, “Do you understand what he did in this country?” Critics of Rodman, including Bae’s sister, were appalled by his comments, which they found justified the Korean regime's holding of an American citizen.
Rodman justified his partying with Kim and casual trips to North Korea by saying that he wasn’t aware of the atrocities Kim was being accused of, repeatedly saying that he asked people around him, but nobody told him: “I didn’t know what he did.”