SEOUL — Former National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea for his third visit this year, this time to train the nuclear armed nation's basketball players for an upcoming exhibition game. Critics said Rodman, who calls Kim a friend, is being used for propaganda and publicity.
Rodman said a January exhibition game he is organizing with 12 other American players could help open doors in isolated North Korea.
"This country's pretty cool man, it's pretty cool. I understand what's going on with the political stuff. I'm don't want to go into that venture. I'm just doing one thing for these kids here and for this country and for my country, and for the world pretty much," he said.
His trip comes just a week after leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle, the country’s second in command. The political purge raised concerns about stability in North Korea, a gross human rights violator.
Arriving in Pyongyang, Rodman said he is not concerned about politics and remains close friends with Kim.
As the players prepare for the game to mark Kim’s 31st birthday, the trip’s sponsor, Irish bookmaker “Paddy Power,” is calling the event, “The Big Bang in Pyongyang.”
Dan Pinkston is Deputy Director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. He supports people-to-people exchanges like Rodman's and says the basketball player means well. “He genuinely wants North Korea and the United States to have peaceful relations and they should end the hostility," he stated. "He's not a politician, he's not a public official, he's not a scholar in international relations. But, this is his genuine sentiment.”
Rodman has faced criticism for not bringing up human rights issues with Kim Jong Un. But Pinkston said Rodman's friendship with Kim, while strange, could positively influence the young leader's views of the world and the U.S.