Rodman Sings 'Happy Birthday' To North Korea's Kim; Comments Create Outrage In U.S.
Former NBA player DENNIS RODMAN "led an auditorium of North Koreans in singing 'Happy Birthday' to their leader on Wednesday," a day after he "sparked controversy by appearing to suggest a Korean-American was to blame for his captivity in North Korea," according to Sam Webb of the London DAILY MAIL. A tour guide who watched the game in Pyongyang said of Rodman's singing, "It started out as surreal, then people joined in and it sort of faded a bit, but it seemed pretty heartfelt from Rodman's side. It was unexpected, and probably unplanned. KIM JONG UN appeared to smile, but he didn't appear to expect it." SIMON COCKERELL said the audience "had stood and cheered Kim for up to six minutes when he appeared with his wife." Cockerell: "Dennis Rodman gave a charmingly shambolic speech where he thanked Kim Jong Un and his wife for showing up, along with the other players for being brave enough to come with him and join in his 'engagement effort.'" Rodman "raised an outcry at home" when, in a TV interview on Tuesday, he "appeared to suggest" that Korean-American missionary KENNETH BAE "was to blame for his captivity." During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his trip, Rodman "seemed to say Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 and convicted in May on charges of crimes against the state, was responsible for his situation." Rodman said, "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?" Bae's sister, TERRI CHUNG, said her family was ''outraged'' by his comments and he could ''do a lot of good'' by using his access to the North Korea leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than "hurl outrageous accusations" at her brother. Chung: "He is playing games with my brother's life." Asked about Rodman's comments, White House spokesperson JAY CARNEY told reporters, ''I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response," emphasizing that the trip was private travel that "was not endorsed by the U.S. government" (DAILY MAIL, 1/8).
EXPRESSING REGRET: Former NBA player CHARLES D. SMITH said he "feels remorse for coming to Pyongyang" with Rodman for a game on the North Korean leader's birthday because the event "has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman's own comments." Smith and other former NBA players played with Rodman against a team of North Koreans on Wednesday "that organizers say leader Kim Jong Un is expected to attend." Many of the players on Tuesday "privately expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home in the United States." Smith: "What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it. 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. We're not skilled in those particular areas. Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas" (AP, 1/7).
NBA BACKS OFF: WANT CHINA TIMES reported the NBA "has distanced itself" from Rodman. NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "Dennis will be Dennis, but I think there is a lot at stake here in terms of a ... very dangerous country" (WANT CHINA TIMES, 1/8).