Former NBA player and walking tattoo billboard Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea. This time Rodman is leading a group of former NBA players who will play a basketball game today, apparently to celebrate the birthday of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.
Rodman says the dictator is a great friend and that he is on a “basketball diplomacy” mission, similar to the trip of the U.S. table tennis team to China that helped to thaw relations between those two countries during the Nixon Administration. (The U.S. says Rodman isn’t representing this country, in case you’re wondering.)
For somebody who professes such aspirations, Rodman is a pretty crappy diplomat. During an interview, he made comments about Kenneth Bae, an American who worked as a tour operator in North Korea, was arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp, and apparently has suffered significant health problems since then. Rodman was asked whether he would speak to Kim Jong-un about Bae, reacted with anger, and asked the interviewer if he knew why Bae was imprisoned and what he had done in North Korea — comments that Bae’s family and others have interpreted as suggesting that Bae did something wrong and deserves his treatment.
It’s not surprising that Rodman would go back to North Korea. During his NBA days he grew accustomed to celebrity status, after his retirement he went through the mill of professional wrestling and bad reality TV shows, and he continues to crave the spotlight. Now, the only way anyone pays attention to him is when he goes to visit brutal dictators who lead a destitute and starving nation — and he’s apparently willing to pay that price. I wonder, however, why any other self-respecting former NBA players would participate in Rodman’s folly. After all, Kim Jong-un is regarded as so unbalanced that some news media found plausible an apparently satirical claim that he had his uncle torn apart by a pack of 120 dogs. Why would anyone voluntarily travel to a benighted land and put themselves under the complete control of an absolute dictator who clearly does not feel constrained by principles of international law or human decency?