NEW YORK —
Former National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman was in New York Monday to talk about his recent visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and the country's leader Kim Jong Un. He touted a close relationship with Kim and said that “basketball diplomacy” could bridge the gap between North Korea and the United States.
At a news conference, Rodman said was invited to bring a team of former NBA players to North Korea for exhibition games next year, adding that the North Korean leader will give him anything he needs to make the games a success.
“He said do you want a stadium? We’ll give it to you," Rodman said. "We’ve got 150,000 kids who will do anything for you on the field. We’ve got 95,000 people in the stadium watching this game. That’s a lot of people.”
The relationship between Rodman and Kim took root during the NBA Hall of Famer’s controversial first visit to North Korea with the Harlem Globetrotters in February. The international community considers Kim a dictator, a label Rodman rejects.
“If you meet the marshal over there, he’s a very good guy," said Rodman. "He has to do his job, but he’s a very good guy.”
The basketballs star is calling his project “basketball diplomacy.”
Daniel Pinkston, an Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group, points out it’s a non-confrontational way for the two countries to begin breaking down barriers.
“We’re social beings, and interacting with other people through academic exchanges, cultural exchanges, sports exchanges - this is how we learn new things and learn how to cooperate with others," said Pinkston.
The United States has been seeking the release of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who's in a North Korean prison and reported to be ill. Rodman refused to answer questions about Bae. But earlier he said advocating for Bae's release is not his job. One of his goals seems to be grabbing the attention of President Barack Obama.
"So why, Obama, are you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman? You're not afraid to talk to Beyonce and Jay-Z. Why not me? Why not me? I'm pretty important now right," said Rodman.
Whether his “basketball diplomacy" will score is anyone’s guess. But there's more. He said he has also been invited to spend three years training North Korea's basketball delegation to try to qualify for the next Summer Olympics.