WEST PALM BEACH, Fl, March 1, 2013 – In one of the most bizarre diplomatic stories of our lifetime, Dennis Rodman is currently visiting North Korea.
Dennis Rodman, the multiply-pierced and often outspoken former NBA star is currently lounging in one of the most repressive countries in the world, watching exhibition basketball games with leader Kim Jung Un.
The visual is disturbing at best. The 6’6” Rodman schmoozing with the 5’5” (on a good day) Kim. Rodman is an iconic representation of all things American.
He is a self-made man, growing from poverty into an extremely wealthy superstar. He has nothing but distain for his biological father, as he noted in his biography, “Bad As I Wanna Be.” He has pierced ears, piercings in his nose, piercings in his lips, tattoos and often sports brightly-dyed hair.
Kim is the product of a closed, tightly controlled system where freedom is quashed at every opportunity. In many ways, he is the mirror image of his father, the former ruler of North Korea, and speaks of him with warmth bordering on adoration.
No tattoos, piercings or visible decoration for Kim.
They both, however, appear to like basketball.
Rodman is in North Korea as part of the Vice Media crew, along with Globetrotters Anthony Blakes, Alex Weekes and Will Bullard, filming a documentary for HBO.
The Globetrotters participated in an exhibition basketball game, along with twelve North Korean players.
Kim thrilled the American contingent by not only showing up at the game, but staying through the entire display, laughing and joking with Rodman. Kim then invited the entire crew back to his place, er, palace, for a party.
Rodman did not play in the exhibition game. His role apparently is basketball diplomat, sent to woo Kim, which he did.
After the game, Rodman told Kim in front of the North Korean crowd, “You have a friend for life.”
Vice Media correspondent Ryan Duffy then invited Kim to the United States, saying he would help facilitate a meeting between Kim and “a five-time N.B.A. champion” and a Chicago Bull.
The backdrop to the basketball diplomacy, of course, is that North Korea and the United States, off the basketball court, are far from close friends.
In February, North Korea launched a nuclear test despite international bans. Several sources reported shortly afterwards that the country is prepared to stage up to two more tests this year to force the United States into diplomatic talks.
The country has an abysmal human rights record, and the United States and Japan earlier this week called on the United Nations to investigate fresh claims of abuses in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that there are growing reports of torture and execution of political prisoners and a network of political prison camps that hold at least 200,000 people.
Kim, who is continuing his father’s “military first” policy allocates monies to military efforts before helping his citizens. The country has suffered from famine and food shortages for years, and thousands still die of starvation.
Rodman, apparently, did not broach any of these subjects with the leader of North Korea. Instead, he and Kim watched basketball and partied.
Despite all the good feelings from the trip, North Korea remains a closed society, diametrically opposed to the basic principals of the United States – freedom and democracy – that oppresses its citizens.
Rodman and Co. are not in North Korea as diplomats. They are in the country to make money and win access for the documentary.
That said, they were able to meet with the head of North Korea, the elusive Kim Jung Un, which is more than many other high-ranking American’s have accomplished.
Perhaps, on his way back, Rodman can stop in Iran.