Dennis Rodman has returned to North Korea in another attempt to improve diplomacy between the U.S. and the notorious hermit-nation through basketball. Pyongyang Indoor Stadium was filled with 14,000 people on Wednesday, including North Korea’s senior officials and the supreme leader himself. Rodman serenaded Kim Jong-Un with “Happy Birthday” and added fuel to the bureaucratic fire by calling him “a great leader.”
Rodman took a small team of former NBA players, such as Doug Christie, Jerry Dupree and Charles D. Smith, for an exhibition game against North Korea’s finest basketball players. The flamboyant NBA Hall of Famer called the event “historic” as some of the other Americans said they came to create a human connection with an isolated part of the world. The North Koreans led the former NBA stars 47-39 at halftime before the teams were mixed for the second half. Rodman played the first half, but spent the entire second half sitting next to his “best friend.”
Rodman’s exhibition game in North Korea was somewhat of a birthday present to Kim Jong-Un. North Korea’s leader is believed to have turned 31 on Wednesday. Former New York Knick Charles D. Smith said Rodman acted alone in singing “Happy Birthday” with the crowd singing along intermittently.
"We always tell Dennis that he can't sing. He is tone deaf," Smith said. "He did it alone."
Smith expressed regret on attending the trip to North Korea. He agreed that “basketball diplomacy” organized by Rodman was a positive thing, but expressed worry about the distortion of their true intentions being overlooked by other political measures.
"What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it," Smith said. "Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us, and I think that has to do with politics and government."
Rodman’s antics on his most recent voyage to North Korea are being criticized on many fronts. NBA commissioner David Stern and the National Basketball Retired Players Association denounced the game as well as certain U.S. political leaders. Senator John McCain had harsh words for Rodman this morning.
“I think he’s an idiot. I think he’s the very person that, of not great intellect who doesn’t understand that he really does provide propaganda for this very brutal ruthless young man,” McCain said of Rodman and his relationship with Kim Jong-Un.
McCain added that Rodman’s relationship with the North Korean leader further empowers Kim amongst his people. According to the Arizona Senator, Kim and Rodman’s friendship excuses the brutal dictatorship of heinous crimes against humanity.
When the topic of Kenneth Bae was approached on Tuesday, Rodman angered many Americans by seemingly defending his imprisonment. This coming from the guy who went to Twitter to call on Kim to “do him a solid” and free the captive American. Bae is an American Christian serving a 15-year prison sentence for charges based on “planning to topple North Korea’s government through religious activities.” Bae’s family was insulted by Rodman’s defense of Kim’s regime.
"Dennis Rodman could do a lot of good by advocating for Kenneth to Kim Jong Un, but instead he has decided to hurl outrageous accusations at my brother, insinuating that Kenneth has done something sinister," Bae’s sister Terri Chung said.
Rodman’s emotional “do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me” comment was the cause of McCain to label Rodman as an idiot. Bae’s sister insisted Rodman “playing games” at her brother’s expense by arguing with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Charles D. Smith added that Rodman’s statement on CNN “tainted their efforts.”
"Some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts. Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on; he gets emotional and he says things that he'll apologize for later."
What many Americans are hoping Rodman apologizes for are his pregame antics he showed before the game. He sang “Happy Birthday” to his friend, big deal; but he didn’t stop there. Rodman appeared to have bowed to Kim, an action that is not acceptable for most foreigners to do to the supreme leader. The bow wasn’t all, Rodman glorified Kim Jong-Un as something almost every person outside North Korea would disagree with.
"A lot of people have expressed different views about me and your leader, your marshal, and I take that as a compliment," Rodman told the crowd. "Yes, he is a great leader, he provides for his people here in this country and thank God the people here love the marshal."
Rodman’s previous visits to North Korea were more casual and basketball related. If people were outraged by Rodman before this trip, they aren’t likely to change their opinion about him now. His most recent adoration for Kim Jong-Un shouldn’t come as a surprise, as citizens who speak out against him or even complain about food rations are sentenced to labor camps with their entire families. Rodman has been cautious not to admonish Kim Jong-Un or North Korea ever since his friendship with the supreme leader began; something an “idiot” would find wise not to do as he could face a similar fate as Kenneth Bae.
Rodman isn’t the first American to be courted by a dictator. Several musicians such as Beyoncé, Usher, Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtado have performed for the dictator of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, on separate occasions. Unlike Rodman, these artists admitted their ignorance and apologized for causing public outrage.