Retired US basketball player Dennis Rodman is visiting North Korea to film a TV documentary and was due to arrive in the capital, Pyongyang, yesterday, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on and off-court antics.
Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland.
Rodman, who sports trademark tattoos and piercings, played for the Chicago Bulls.
“At a time when tensions between the two countries [the US and North Korea] are running high, it’s important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are,” AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.
VICE, based in New York, is a production company that has previously filmed in North Korea.
The report did not disclose the topic of the TV series, but said it was part of “documentary-style news reports from around the world” that would be distributed on HBO in April.
US citizens do not require clearance to visit North Korea, and Google Inc executive chairman Eric Schmidt visited last month.
The US is leading a drive in the UN to have stricter sanctions imposed on Pyongyang following its nuclear test two weeks ago.
The third Kim to rule North Korea, an isolated and impoverished state that has about 200,000 political prisoners in labor camps and where a third of children are malnourished, has a penchant for US culture.
On coming to office, he staged a spectacular featuring a host of Disney characters. He has also been pictured at theme parks, in sharp contrast with his father’s austere appearances.
There have been a variety of attempts at sports diplomacy with North Korea, ranging from wrestling to judo and basketball.
None appears to have fared any better than the regular kind of diplomacy in preventing North Korea from pushing toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.