Dennis Rodman worms his way into North Korea


Published — Tuesday 26 February 2013

Last update 26 February 2013 7:07 pm

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

PYONGYANG, North Korea: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman brought his basketball skills Tuesday and flamboyant style — neon-bleached hair, tattoos, nose studs and all — to the isolated communist country with possibly the world’s drabbest dress code: North Korea.
Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as “The Worm” became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the US and North Korea. Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader Kim Jong Un is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Rodman won three championships with the club.
Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for a Vice Media production to air on HBO in early April, Vice founder Shane Smith told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before the group’s departure from Beijing.
Smith said the Americans hope to engage in a little “basketball diplomacy” by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals, and by competing alongside top athletes of North Korea — formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes,” said Smith, who is host of the upcoming series. “But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.”
Rodman might seem an odd fit for an impoverished country where male fashion rarely ventures beyond military khaki and growing facial hair is forbidden. During his heyday in the 1990s, Rodman was a poster boy for excess. He called his 1996 autobiography “Bad as I Wanna Be” — and showed up wearing a wedding dress to promote it.
Shown a photo of a snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest, one North Korean in Pyongyang recoiled and said: “He looks like a monster!“
But Rodman is also a Hall of Fame basketball player and one of the best defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. During a storied, often controversial career, he won five NBA championships — a feat that quickly overshadowed his antics for at least one small North Korean group of basketball fans.
Rodman’s is the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the US It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of UN bans against atomic and missile activity.
Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs in January, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.
Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.
North Korea characterizes the satellite launch as a peaceful bid to explore space, but says the nuclear test was meant as a deliberate warning to Washington. Pyongyang says it needs to build nuclear weapons to defend itself against the US, and is believed to be trying to build an atomic bomb small enough to mount on a missile capable of reaching the mainland US
Vice, known for its sometimes irreverent journalism, has made two previous visits to North Korea, coming out with the “VICE Guide to North Korea.” The HBO series, which will air weekly starting April 5, features documentary-style news reports from around the world.
The Americans also will visit North Korea’s national monuments, the SEK animation studio and a new skate park in Pyongyang.
The US State Department hasn’t been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group, a senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public. The official said the department does not vet US citizens’ private travel to North Korea and urges US citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website.
In a now-defunct US-North Korean agreement in which Washington had planned last year to give food aid to Pyongyang in exchange for nuclear concessions, Washington had said it was prepared to increase people-to-people exchanges with the North, including in the areas of culture, education and sports.
Promoting technology and sports are two major policy priorities of Kim Jong Un, who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Along with soccer, basketball is enormously popular in North Korea, where it’s not uncommon to see basketball hoops set up in hotel parking lots or in schoolyards. It’s a game that doesn’t require much equipment or upkeep.
The US remains Enemy No. 1 in North Korea, and North Koreans have limited exposure to American pop culture. But they know Michael Jordan, a former teammate of Rodman’s when they both played for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
During a historic visit to North Korea in 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented Kim Jong Il, famously an NBA fan, with a basketball signed by Jordan that later went on display in the huge cave at Mount Myohyang that holds gifts to the leaders.
North Korea even had its own Jordan wannabe: Ri Myong Hun, a 7-foot-9 star player who is said to have renamed himself “Michael” after his favorite player and moved to Canada for a few years in the 1990s in hopes of making it into the NBA.
Even today, Jordan remains well-loved here. At the Mansudae Art Studio, which produces the country’s top art, a portrait of Jordan spotted last week, complete with a replica of his signature and “NBA” painted in one corner, seemed an odd inclusion among the propaganda posters and celadon vases on display.
An informal poll of North Koreans revealed that “The Worm” isn’t quite as much a household name in Pyongyang.
But Kim Jong Un was a basketball-crazy adolescent when Rodman, now 51, was with the Bulls, and when the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition basketball team, kept up a frenetic travel schedule worldwide.
In a memoir about his decade serving as Kim Jong Il’s personal sushi chef, a man who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto recalled that basketball was the young Kim Jong Un’s biggest passion, and that the Chicago Bulls were his favorite.
The notoriously unpredictable and irrepressible Rodman said he has no special antics up his sleeve for making his mark on one of the world’s most regimented and militarized societies, a place where order and conformity are enforced with Stalinist fervor.
But he said he isn’t leaving any of his piercings behind.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Washington. Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul at

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The authorities have halted the production of specific type of cables at a manufacturing plant in the industrial area of Madinah, saying that their use is dangerous from the safety point of view. According to an official from the Ministry of...
JEDDAH: Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin recently warned that Yemen may be on the brink of social collapse after recent insurgency acts, a local newspaper reported. Yassin said that future Iranian attempts to interfere in the country might involve...
JEDDAH: The Kingdom is expected to receive more than 6 million Umrah pilgrims during the current season and the number is likely to exceed past figures, Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar has said.“All arrangements are in place and the ministry is ready to w...
RIYADH: The Kingdom will host the summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Dec. 10 at which the regional leaders will discuss ways and means to fight terrorism besides key regional conflicts and global issues.The 36th GCC summit wil...
JEDDAH: King Abdullah International Humanitarian Foundation (KAIHF) launched a new dialysis center in Makkah as part of the King Abdullah International Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works Dialysis Care Project.The launch ceremony was patron...
JEDDAH: Thanks to the backing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, 13 purpose-built bomb disposal vehicles for use by Special Emergency Forces (SEF) in dealing with explosive materials are now in use. The announcement was made by SEF Commander Brig. Ge...
DAMMAM: Many cities in the Kingdom have experienced catastrophes as a result of heavy rains and floods which resulted in deaths as well as significant damage to both public and private property.In Jeddah, despite billions spent by the state on infras...
RIYADH: A total of 692 fake nationalization cases were detected across the Kingdom in the last Islamic year and reports submitted to the nationalization committees.The committees, which comprise representatives from different government authorities,...
RIYADH: A forum on medical errors, organized by the lawyers’ committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recently urged the health authorities to establish a special court to deal with medical error cases in the Kingdom.The forum cited...
RIYADH: The government has acquired a new fleet of 2,000 modern school buses to replace its old fleet, according to the Ministry of Education.Modern and well-equipped transport were purchased at the beginning of the Islamic year to replace more than...
ABHA: Many Saudis expressed shock and anger at recent videos showing women being subject to harassment by men.While many still believe that harassment is an individual case that hasn’t evolved into a phenomenon, others state the need to draft laws an...
RIYADH: The Kingdom is moving in the right direction as far as combating drug trafficking and related crimes are concerned, a visiting UN official has said here. Gillian Murray, deputy director, Division for Policy Analysis of the United Nations Off...
DAMMAM: Security patrols in Alkhobar ended an agitation by workers demanding salaries and financial dues on Sunday.The workers belonging to different nationalities had assembled inside the premises of the company that employed them seeking salaries a...
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Education, through the Tatweer for Educational Transport Services that supervises school transport, is allowing the parents of school children to use electronic means to inform them about violations committed by school drivers...
RIYADH: A total of 790 decisions over the past year that were submitted to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs have not been implemented.A source from the municipality said that some reasons were the clash of such decisions with the rules, re...

Events & Exhibitions

Stay Connected