Dennis Rodman departed Pyongyang today (March 1, 2013) after completing a three day visit with young North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un. At first this might seem an unlikely pairing and a strange odyssey for the flamboyant former NBA player who once wore a wedding dress to promote his autobiography and became as well known for his tattoos, body piercings and off the court antics, as for his handling of a basketball.
Rodman is the most high-profile American to visit with Kum Jong-un since he took power in 2011. And his visit takes place just shortly after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test and made it very clear that it was a warning for the US to drop its hostile policies toward North Korea. Could it be that Rodman's visit was less about basketball, the Globe Trotters, and shooting footage for HBO and more about Basketball diplomacy.
What do North Korea's Kim Jong-un and President Obama have in common? They are both die-hard basketball fans. Could it be that the US government, unwilling to wait for Global warming to thaw relations with North Korea, has resorted to Basketball diplomacy? If so perhaps Dennis Rodman will be joining the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, who in 1994 was able to restart stalled diplomatic discussions with Pyongyang.
If this is true it wouldn't be the first time that sports have played a role in world diplomacy. On April 6, 1971, the American Ping-Pong team, in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, received a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues for an all-expense paid visit to the People's Republic. Time magazine called it "The ping heard round the world" and the visit was dubbed Ping pong diplomacy.
The People's Daily thinks not, they feel that if the US government really had anything to say to the “Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea” there are more convenient channels, and this American Basketball delegation's visit should not be compared to the US-China Ping pong diplomacy of 1971. Read more
However, according to Reuters, “Kim told Rodman over dinner that he hoped further sports exchanges would promote "mutual understanding between peoples of the two countries".
Certainly this visit proves that the power of a shared enthusiasm for a sport can bring the most unlikely individuals together on common ground and should not be underestimated.