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Basketball's Dennis Rodman Visits North Korea

  • VOA News

Former U.S. basketball superstar Dennis Rodman has traveled to North Korea to help film a television show and engage in an unlikely cultural exchange in the Stalinist country.

Rodman and several members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team also plan to hold a series of basketball camps for North Korean children during the weeklong visit.

After landing in Pyongyang on Tuesday, the eccentric Rodman said he was just looking forward to "having some fun" in the notoriously closed state.

"It's my first time [to visit North Korea]. I think it's most of these guys' first time. So hopefully everything will be okay, and I hope the kids have a good time for the game," Rodman told reporters.

The U.S.-based Vice media group, which is leading the group, billed the trip as a "basketball diplomacy" mission. It said in a press release the visit will include activities aimed at encouraging "openness and better relations with the outside world."

Vice said the mission may also include a "top-level scrimmage" to be attended by Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean leader who took power following the death of his father in 2011. The event could not be confirmed.

The visit comes at a diplomatically sensitive time, just weeks after North Korea defiantly conducted its third and most powerful nuclear test. The test was slammed by the United States and its allies as a violation of United Nations bans against North Korea's nuclear program.

Vice did not say whether the trip had the support of the U.S. government, which has in the past objected to high-profile private trips to North Korea during times of heightened tensions.

The State Department in January warned against a similar visit by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who spent several days in North Korea as part of what they said was a humanitarian mission.

Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Leeds University, tells VOA he does not think Rodman's visit will hurt diplomatic efforts, especially since the current method of dealing with North Korean leaders does not seem to be working.

"We're in a bad place with North Korea and the nuclear test and so on," said Foster-Carter. "If someone tries something different, you know, outside the box, what harm can it do?"

The Brooklyn-based Vice has a reputation for its sometimes edgy and humorous journalism.

Vice says it will broadcast portions of the visit next month on the HBO television network.

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