Former National Basketball Association (NBA) star Dennis Rodman said yesterday he is hoping a basketball game he is organizing in North Korea could “engage the American people” and US President Barack Obama.
“Sport is so important to people around the world, so I hope this is going to engage the American people, especially Obama,” the eccentric former Chicago Bulls star told reporters at Beijing airport, on his way to Pyongyang.
Rodman is organizing an exhibition game between North Korea and a team of mainly ex-NBA players on Jan. 8, to mark the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The young ruler, 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.
The heavily tattooed Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the North Korean leader since making his first trip there in March, when he declared Kim a “friend for life.”
Earlier this month Kim had his uncle and former mentor Jang Song-thaek executed in a surprise move, but Rodman distanced himself from political events in the country.
“I have got nothing to do with that,” he said.
The ex-NBA team is expected to be announced during Rodman’s visit to the reclusive state, his third of the year.
Rodman brushed aside official warnings by the US government to its citizens not to travel to North Korea, saying “there is nothing I can do about that” and adding that “if something happens it is beyond my control.”
He also said he would have “a good conversation” with Kim “to help the world,” without elaborating.
Accompanying Rodman to Pyongyang were Irish bookmakers and trip sponsors Paddy Power.