Dennis Rodman, Three Globetrotters Visit North Korea For 'Basketball Diplomacy'
Former NBA player DENNIS RODMAN "brought his basketball skills and flamboyant style -- tattoos, nose studs and all -- on Tuesday to a country with possibly the world's strictest dress code: North Korea," according to Jean H. Lee of the AP. Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as "The Worm" "became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea." Lee wrote, "Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader KIM JONG UN is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s..." Before the group’s departure from Beijing, Vice Media founder SHANE SMITH told the AP that "Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for a Vice Media production to air on HBO in early April." Smith said that "the Americans hope to engage in a little 'basketball diplomacy' by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals, and by competing alongside top athletes" of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Smith, who will host the upcoming series, said: "Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes. But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing." After seeing a photo of "snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest," one North Korean in Pyongyang exclaimed, "He looks like a monster!" A senior administration official for the U.S. State Department said that it "hasn’t been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group." The official requested anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public and said that "the department does not vet U.S. citizens’ private travel to North Korea and urges U.S. citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website" (AP 2/26).
DOING IT FOR THE KIDS: Reuters reported Rodman, "who sports trademark tattoos and piercings" told North Korea's KCNA, "I think most of guys are first time here so hopefully everything is OK and hopefully kids have a good time for the game." Vice "hinted that Kim may attend one of its events, but that could not be independently verified." Kim, the third member of his family to rule North Korea "appears to have a penchant for American culture apart from basketball." On coming to office he "staged a spectacular featuring a host of Disney characters" and "has been pictured at theme parks." While there is no U.S.-government connection to Rodman's trip, "there have been a variety of attempts at sports diplomacy with North Korea, ranging from wrestling to judo and basketball" (REUTERS 2/26).