Rodman in DPRK with ex-NBA team
Updated: 2014-01-07 08:59
Dennis Rodman arrived in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Monday with a team of former NBA players for an exhibition game on Kim Jong-un's birthday.
The flamboyant Hall of Famer arrived in the DPRK capital from Beijing with a squad of a dozen former basketball stars including Vin Baker and Cliff Robinson in what Rodman calls "basketball diplomacy", although US officials have criticized his efforts.
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman talks to journalists as he arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport to leave for Pyongyang, in Beijing, Jan 6, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]
"It's about trying to connect two countries together in the world," Rodman said in an interview outside his Beijing hotel before his flight to the DPRK.
"People say so many negative things about the DPRK. And I want people in the world to see it's not that bad."
The United States is at odds with the DPRK over the latter's nuclear weapons program.
The US players are to compete in an exhibition game against a DPRK team on Wednesday, Kim's birthday.
Rodman said he hoped the match could "open the doors" to "talk about certain things".
"But I am not going to sit there and go 'Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing. That is not the right way to do it. He is my friend first ... and I love him," Rodman said, sprinkling his comments with expletives.
The heavily tattooed Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the DPRK leader since making his first trip there in February, when he declared Kim a "friend for life".
The young Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls, for whom Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
Last month Kim had his uncle and former mentor Jang Song-thaek executed. "I am not worried about his uncle," Rodman said in Beijing in response to questions.
Rodman routinely distances himself from political events in the country.
The player known as "The Worm" is one of the few Westerners to have met Kim, who took over following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
"Somehow we have to get along, and no matter what disagreements or what discrepancy we have in life," Rodman said. "It's like saying: Why do we have the Olympics? When everyone comes together in the Olympics, there's no problems. That's what I'm doing. That's all I'm doing."