WASHINGTON — Former American basketball star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea for his fourth visit in recent months. His trip comes at a tense time, with the U.S. calling for the release of an American citizen serving a 15-year prison term in North Korea for "state subversion."
Balls were bouncing and shots were flying Tuesday at a gym in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, as seven players who once starred in the U.S. National Basketball Association were holding a clinic for a North Korean team.
The U.S. group is led by the eccentric and outspoken Dennis Rodman, who made more explosive comments on Tuesday.
In an interview with CNN, Rodman appeared to blame ailing Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae for his captivity in the North.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki distanced herself from Rodman's comments. She also said the U.S. remains "gravely concerned" about Bae's health.
"I'm just reiterating, I don't have any further comments or analysis of the impact, but other than to say that his comments are not representative of the views of the United States government because obviously he's not speaking on our behalf, and he's not there on our behalf. So we're working through our own channels. I'm not going to do more analysis of his comments and what they may or may not mean,” said Psaki.
On Wednesday, the American players will face the North Korean team in an exhibition to mark the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In past visits, Rodman has met with Kim, calling him a "friend for life" and a "good guy." There is no indication the two will meet this time.
The five-time NBA champion has faced ridicule for going to North Korea, a country criticized for human rights abuses. NBA Commissioner David Stern was among those who questioned his current trip.
However, Rodman maintains that his visits are aimed at bringing the U.S. and North Korea together through sports. He calls his current trip "basketball diplomacy.”
"So when we come back to America, please, do one thing, don't give us negativity, just shake our hand, because we tried to do something very nice. That is it guys, we're not trying to stand here, trying to control things, no, we're just coming to do something very nice," said Rodman.
So nice that Rodman has touted himself as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.