On the heels of North Korea’s return of a mortally ill American college student, Otto Warmbier, another American returned from a much shorter trip to the closed, antagonistic regime. Former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman landed in China after what he called a “really good” trip to North Korea.
Rodman has been a self-appointed sports ambassador to North Korea for years, despite the negative reactions from multiple Rod-fans. A former Detroit Piston “Bad Boy” and Chicago Bulls rebounding machine, Rodman made a name for himself on and off the court, late in his career, by weirding people out. Many fans loved him for it. Many others, both fans and opponents, never appreciated Rodman’s freak flag shtick.
Rodman has been to meet with Kim Jong Un before, hoping, he said, to open a bridge to bring sports to the infamously closed off totalitarian nation. This time, it was less certain whether or not Rodman had met with the dictator. When media asked, Rodman quipped: “You’ll find out.”
The first time Rodman officially visited North Korea, the trip was viewed as just one more extension of “weird Rodman,” the basketball star who lived and played larger than life. Now, though, things have changed. North Korea is becoming increasingly belligerent, increasing missile tests and openly threatening the West.
Ironically, where relations between North Korea and the United States, have continued to worsen, some have even, seriously, speculated that Rodman could become a bridge builder. Initially, many people scoffed at the idea, but as Rodman continued to have amicable relations with the country and its top leaders, others have begun to take the idea a bit more seriously.
Officially, the US State Department says Rodman is traveling only as a private citizen with absolutely no diplomatic role. And some elected officials have gone so far as to say Rodman’s trips are only emboldening the antagonistic regime and giving them content for pro-North Korean propaganda.
There’s some truth to these accusations. In some earlier trips, Rodman took part in basketball games and even sung happy birthday to Kim. Actions like this may have played well in Rodman’s pseudo-documentary of his trips, but they angered both US officials and many fans who believe the star is actively supporting the dangerous regime.
Rodman, in typically Rodman-esque fashion, brushes these accusations off. He’s a goodwill ambassador hoping to spread a love of basketball, he says, not a politician. Everyone is just taking all this much too seriously.