Just when North Korea and the United States seemed unable to find any common ground to work with in terms of stabilizing relations, basketball saved the day. At least that was what those watching Thursday’s basketball exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea were hoping.
The exclusive photographs coming out of North Korea on Thursday showed NBA legend Dennis Rodman laughing while watching a basketball exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea, with Kim Jong-un, the young leader of one of the world’s most repressive countries, may go down as another chapter in the history of accidental American diplomacy.
Not only did Kim attend the game Thursday and watch alongside Rodman, but he also invited Rodman, three Harlem Globetrotters and the Vice Media crew filming the trip for a documentary to his palace for a party, said Vice Media’s founder Shane Smith, who created and organized the trip.
The group received permission from North Korean authorities to conduct the exhibitions and film video for the HBO series “Vice,” airing on April 5th, 2013; they arrived safely in Pyongyang on Tuesday, but it was not promised that Kim would meet with the group.
“Apparently, he had a blast at the game,” Smith said, after speaking by phone with Ryan Duffy, a Vice Media correspondent who was on the trip. “So he invited them back to his home for a party, and they had a grand old time. Speeches were made — Dennis made a very nice one — and they were met with rounds of applause.”
The scene was especially bizarre because of the tense relations between the United States and North Korea; North Korea had recently made the relationship more more difficult recently by declaring it had conducted a third nuclear test. In January Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, went in attempt to persuade the leadership to allow Internet access for more than a fraction of its people, but he did not report meeting with Kim.
Basketball, though, apparently has the power to thaw most anything because Kim is said to be a devoted fan, like his later father, Kim Jong-il. Although Kim spoke only limited English, he and Rodman spoke without translators assisting them courtside; a translator was later used at the dinner.
The exhibition game featured 12 North Korean players on mixed teams with the American contingent, led by the three Globetrotters: Anthony Blakes, Alex Weekes and Will Bullard.
Rodman spent the game watching from a courtside table with Kim; he also gave a speech to the crowd, during which he told Kim, “You have a friend for life.”
The game was said to have ended in a 110-110 tie.
“We just couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Smith said. “It was a long shot, no pun intended. We knew he loves the Chicago Bulls and he was a huge basketball fan, and we hoped he would want to meet a five-time N.B.A. champion and a Chicago Bull, but we had no guarantees” he said.
Kim expressed to Rodman that he hoped this visit would improve North Korean-American relations, Smith said Duffy told him. Duffy said he invited Kim to the United States.