*Retired NBA star turned colorful media personality Dennis Rodman said Tuesday that he is returning to North Korea, “to visit my friend” Kim Jong-un, the country’s “Supreme Leader,” dictator and sworn enemy of the United States.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rodman said he plans to spend five days in the ostracized nation but played down speculation that he would attempt to broker the release of American Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being captured and detained in North Korea while doing volunteer work there last year.
“I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” the Basketball Hall of Famer told Reuters in a telephone interview from Beijing before his connecting flight to Pyongyang. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.”
With any such negotiations off the table, it was not immediately clear what Roman meant by “diplomacy” in this context.
Rodman first visited North Korea in late February on a trip orchestrated by Vice Media, which featured the excursion in the final episode of its new HBO show. Rodman and Vice drew both awe and criticism for the footage, showing the 6-foot, 7-inch basketball star palling around and eating and drinking with Kim, whose country has been accused of myriad human rights abuses and was, at that time, threatening to annihilate the U.S. and South Korea with nuclear weapons.
Rodman’s current trip is being sponsored by Paddy Power, an Irish gambling company. It hasn’t been disclosed how much Rodman is being paid for the trip.
“I just want to meet my friend Kim, the marshal, and start a basketball league over there,” Rodman told the Associated Press Tuesday. “I have not been promised anything. I am just going there as a friendly gesture.”
Kim, like his father Kim Jong-il, is reportedly a huge basketball fan, especially of Michael Jordan, with whom Rodman won three NBA championships in the 1990s.
After his February visit, Rodman described the younger Kim as an “awesome kid,” adding, “I love him — the guy’s awesome.” He then expressed bewilderment that President Barack Obama wouldn’t reach out to the North Korean leader, suggesting Obama “just pick up the phone and call.”
After reading an article about Bae’s plight in a Seattle newspaper last May, Rodman asked Kim in a tweet to “do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.”
Bae remains in a North Korean work camp.