Dennis Rodman with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang last year. (Photo/China Times)
The NBA has distanced itself from basketball Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman over his latest visit to North Korea to play in an exhibition game celebrating the 31st birthday of supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
The game, to be played on Wednesday, will feature local North Korean players against a team of ex-NBA stars headed by Rodman, Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker, Doug Christie, Sleepy Floyd, Craig Hodges and Charles Smith. The 52-year-old Rodman organized the game for avid basketball fan Kim, his "friend for life," after the two developed an unlikely relationship during Rodman's earlier visit to North Korea nearly a year ago. This latest trip is Rodman's fourth visit to the country.
"Dennis will be Dennis, but I think there is a lot at stake here in terms of a...very dangerous country," said David Stern, outgoing NBA commissioner, on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.
Stern, who will step down on Feb. 1 after 30 years on the job, said the NBA has had preliminary discussions in the past with Pyongyang about a cultural exchange but that the league would not send any players to North Korea without the consent of the US State Department. Stern added that he believes these former players agreed to the game for a big pay off and had not thought through the political ramifications.
The commissioner's comments come just hours after Rodman had what Stern called "a meltdown" during a contentious video interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo about his North Korea trip.
When quizzed about visiting North Korea less than a month after Kim executed his uncle-in-law and second-in-command Jang Sung-taek, Rodman lashed out at the interviewer, turning hostile when asked about American citizen Kenneth Bae, who has been held in North Korea for over a year after being sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp for "hostile acts."
"The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did," Rodman said. "Do you understand what he did? In this country?"
"I don't give a fuck!" Rodman exploded when pressed further, shrugging off teammate Charles Smith's attempts to calm him down. "I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think."
"You're the guy behind the mic right now," said Rodman, who recently revealed he has received death threats for his repeated visits to North Korea. "We're the guys here doing one thing. We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse? Well, we're going to take it."
Smith defended Rodman during the interview, saying that people don't truly understand his eccentric teammate and that he has a "great heart."
"We are here because it's about doing great will around the world," Smith said, describing the trip as a kind of cultural exchange. "None of these guys are here to talk any sense into any politician."