Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters were in Pyongyang at the invitation of third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un — an ardent basketball fan, as it turns out.
Kim has refused to meet with regular U.S. diplomats, but he seemed to have all the time in the world for the tattooed and pierced Rodman. They sat together at a basketball game and Kim treated his American guests to what one member of Rodman’s party called an “epic feast,” a curiously insensitive gesture in a land for whom the normal condition of its people is starvation.
Kim clearly snowed Rodman. The player known for his fearsome defensive skills called Kim “an awesome guy,” assured the North Korean leader that he had “a friend for life” and called his father and grandfather, the creators and perpetuators of a slave state, “great leaders.”
Outside of North Korea, Rodman is probably alone in that assessment. “The North Korean regime has a horrific human-rights record, quite possibly the worst human-rights situation in the world,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
The State Department took pains to establish that Rodman in no way represented the United States and that the player once known as “The Worm” was representing only himself. If Rodman was aware that North Korea had recently threatened to attack the United States for its “hostile attitude,” he gave no sign of it.
On his return to the U.S., Rodman said that a good way for the U.S. to break the diplomatic ice was for President Barack Obama to pick up the phone and call Kim to talk basketball, one fan to another.
This is an offer the president will refuse, even though it may cause Kim, who can’t stand to be ignored, to make more threats and perhaps even schedule one of those unsuccessful rocket launches Pyongyang seems to specialize in.