Skip to main content

Dennis Rodman lands in North Korea to train basketball team, news agency says

By Anna Coren and Jason Hanna, CNN
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Dennis Rodman sings "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, January 8. In his latest round of "<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/06/world/asia/north-korea-dennis-rodman/index.html'>basketball diplomacy</a>," Rodman made his fourth visit to North Korea, one of the world's most totalitarian states, to participate in a basketball game between North Korea and a team of former NBA players. Dennis Rodman sings "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, January 8. In his latest round of "basketball diplomacy," Rodman made his fourth visit to North Korea, one of the world's most totalitarian states, to participate in a basketball game between North Korea and a team of former NBA players.
HIDE CAPTION
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dennis Rodman to help prepare North Korean basketball players for an upcoming exhibition
  • Rodman is important to North Korea's attempts to project unity, columnist Gordon Chang says
  • Sister of Kenneth Bae calls on Rodman to press for detainee's release

(CNN) -- Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday, the country's state-run media reported.

Rodman was there for his latest round of controversial "basketball diplomacy" in a country ruled by one of the world's most repressive regimes.

The former player and a documentary crew were scheduled to spend four days helping to train a team of North Korean basketball players for a January exhibition in Pyongyang.

That January 8 exhibition -- said to be against a yet-unannounced team of former NBA players -- will celebrate the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Rodman has called a friend and a "very good guy" despite international condemnation of the country's human rights records.

Rodman's trip -- sponsored by the online betting company Paddy Power -- is the 52-year-old's third to North Korea.

Rodman returns to North Korea
"The worm" returns to North Korea

North Korea: Reality vs. the world according to Dennis Rodman

Rodman said he struck up a friendship with Kim, a basketball fan, during Rodman's first trip in February. After the two men sat next to each other watching a basketball exhibition in North Korea's capital, Rodman told Kim that "you have a friend for life."

Rory Scott, a Paddy Power spokesman, said earlier this month that December's trip is nonpolitical, but is intended "to prove once again that sport has the power to rise above all issues."

It's not clear whether Rodman will meet with Kim on the basketball training visit.

The trip comes at a time of political turmoil in the secretive nuclear-armed nation, ongoing tensions between North Korea and the United States and outcries over North Korea's human rights record.

Tensions in the region were ratcheted up as North Korea carried out a long-range rocket launch a year ago and an underground nuclear test, its third so far, in February. The U.N. sanctions that followed were met by a barrage of threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang.

Rodman was criticized for his first trip in part because it came during this period, in which North Korea was threatening missile strikes on the United States, South Korea and Japan.

The situation has calmed since. But in a sign of internal political upheaval, North Korea announced last week that the regime had executed Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been regarded as the country's second-most powerful figure. North Korea's official news agency accused him of trying to overthrow the state.

Rodman is "really important" to the North Korean regime, said North Korea expert and Forbes.com columnist Gordon Chang.

"Got to remember that Kim Jong Un needs to show that his regime, his government, is united, which it isn't," said Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World."

"With Dennis Rodman, we're going to see a lot of made-for-television events. Everybody's going to be smiling, everything will appear normal, and this will bolster the regime," Chang told "CNN Newsroom" on Wednesday.

'It is not my job to talk about' detained American

The United States has other points of contention with North Korea, including the detention of Korean-American Kenneth Bae.

Bae, arrested in North Korea in November 2012, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after he was found guilty of "hostile acts" and attempts to topple the government through religious activities.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called on North Korean officials to release Bae, widely reported to be a Christian missionary, on humanitarian grounds. His family has said he suffers from chronic health conditions that require doctors' care.

Earlier this year, Rodman made no secret about his desire to help Bae. He tweeted that he wanted Kim to "do him a solid" by freeing the American prisoner.

But after his second trip to see Kim in September, Rodman told reporters that it was "not my job to talk about Kenneth Bae."

"Ask Obama about that, ask Hillary Clinton about that," Rodman said. "Ask those ---holes."

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told CNN on Wednesday that she wants Rodman to press for her brother's freedom.

"I would certainly hope and plead with Mr. Rodman to reconsider and ... make the case" for Bae's freedom, she said.

Rodman, the tattooed and pierced NBA retiree, has emphasized that he's not an official diplomat between the United States and North Korea.

"It's about trying to open Obama's and everyone's minds," he said in September while announcing the January exhibition, aiming some of his remarks at the U.S. President. "You don't have to talk about politics. ... Meet him or even give him a call. That's all he wants."

Paddy Power has said Rodman's team of former NBA players would be announced sometime this month.

North Korea frees U.S. veteran

CNN's Steve Forrest, Holly Yan, Jethro Mullen, Josh Levs and Brooke Baldwin contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes: Evil is the strongest word we have to prepare ourselves to kill others.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 0159 GMT (0959 HKT)
As protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teen calmed down, the question remains: Where's the police officer who pulled the trigger?
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0922 GMT (1722 HKT)
CNN's Tim Lister: Getting rid of ISIS will be tougher than taking on al Qaeda.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
American patients infected with Ebola are being released from the hospital. What now?
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1048 GMT (1848 HKT)
One of the first observers at the MH17 crash site in Ukraine describes the harrowing scene.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
Five survivors of acid attacks capture India's attention with a "ground breaking" photo shoot.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1219 GMT (2019 HKT)
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid gestures during the UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at Cardiff City Stadium on August 12, 2014 Cardiff, Wales.
"We are like one grain of sand against a whole beach," says Eibar fan Unai Eraso.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
From fierce protests in Ferguson, to an Ebola survivor discharged from a hospital in Atlanta, browse through the photos of the week.
ADVERTISEMENT