Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, five time NBA champion and Hall of Famer, has travelled to North Korea several times in the last few years. What gives?
LeBron James may have replaced Michael Jordan as the most popular basketball star across the globe, but one little boy on an island in the Pacific can’t get enough of the Chicago Bulls! Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un inherited a love for the Bulls from his father Kim Jong Il, who famously received a basketball signed by Michael Jordan from US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000.
So when VICE Media convinced Dennis Rodman to reach out to North Korea in 2013, Kim Jong Un could not turn away the five time NBA champion and Hall of Famer. The North Korean authorities agreed to host a goodwill game of basketball that would feature the North Korean national team and three Harlem Globetrotters, but there were no guarantees of meeting Kim Jong Un at the time. As events panned out, the sight of the North Korean leader sitting alongside Rodman at the exhibition game in Pyongyang will go down as a bizarre chapter in international diplomacy.
You can watch the 30-minute VICE documentary here:
Fast forward to Trump
As relations between the United States and North Korea have strained further in the last few weeks, Rodman finds himself in a surreal position. His most recent visit to North Korea was in June 2017, on a trip sponsored by Potcoin.com. Before leaving on that trip, Rodman’s agent Chris Volo had touted Rodman’s ability to act as a liaison, being the only person in the world who had befriended both Trump and Kim Jong Un.
On the day he arrived, the North Korean authorities released Otto F. Warmbier, an American college student who had been held prisoner in North Korea since last year. The 23-year old had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for trying to steal a propaganda poster in January 2016. When Warmbier was received in the United States, he was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness and passed away a week later.
Volo claimed that Rodman was instrumental in Warmbier’s release, having strong armed the North Korean authorities on Rodman’s behalf: “We would need his … release, some type of good faith, if we’re ever going to do some type of future sports relations.” But the US State Department and Otto’s father denied that Rodman had anything to do with Warmbier’s release.
Is this the real life?
When Rodman travelled to North Korea in 2013, he received praise from Donald Trump: “You look at the world, the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have.” But this time around, the US authorities have vehemently refused to endorse Rodman’s efforts.
Whether he is sanctioned by Trump or not, Rodman is acting like another of Trump’s surrogates. When he arrived in North Korea, he said he wants to “open the door” to the regime and claimed that Donald Trump would be pleased with his mission. He did not meet Kim Jong Un on this trip, but handed North Korean Sports Minister Kim Il Guk a copy of President Trump’s The Art of the Deal, alluding to the possibilities of negotiation between the two leaders.
That leaves us with a bizarre question in a time when bizarre is not unusual: could the Worm really broker peace between the fat man and little boy?