Dennis Rodman is going back to North Korea, and plans to bring a team of former NBA players with him.
Days after returning from his second trip to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — in which he said he became the first foreigner to hold the leader’s newborn daughter — Rodman announced plans on Monday to stage two exhibition games in North Korea in January.
The first will be on Jan. 8 — Kim’s birthday — with another to follow two days later.
Rodman’s friendship with the autocratic leader has been criticized, but Rodman insists Kim is a good person, wants to have better relations with the US and that he is the one who can help make it happen with his plan for “basketball diplomacy.”
“Why North Korea? It’ll open doors,” Rodman said at a Manhattan press conference.
Touting his friendship with Kim and taunting US President Barack Obama for not talking to him, Rodman said he will go back to North Korea for a week in December to help select local players for the game. He hopes to have stars such as former Chicago teammate Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone take part in the venture.
“Michael Jordan, he won’t do it, because he’s Michael Jordan,” Rodman said.
Rodman, holding a cigar and wearing the shirt of a vodka company and a hat of a betting company that is funding the event, said Kim has asked him to train his players to compete in the 2016 Olympics and offered to allow the Hall of Famer to write a book about him.
Though looking like a billboard, Rodman said he is not doing the event for money and was adamant that the venture was serious — “groundbreaking,” in Rodman’s words.
“People think this is a gimmick. I would love to make this a gimmick ... but it’s not about the money,” he said.
He rarely referred to Kim by name, frequently calling him “the marshal.” Rodman first met Kim, a basketball fan, when traveling to North Korea in February for a film project.
Though saying he did not want to discuss politics, Rodman raised his voice when answering a questioner about Kim’s human rights record.
“He has to do his job but he’s a very good guy,” Rodman said. “If he wanted to bomb anybody in the world, he would have done it.”
Instead, Rodman had harder words for Obama, whom he spoke angrily of while talking to reporters last week after his trip.
He talked around a question about US citizen and Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in November and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for what Pyongyang described as hostile acts against the state.
Rodman said lobbying for the release of a prisoner was not his job, blaming the president for not reaching out to ease tensions between the countries.
“Why Obama, are you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman?” Rodman said, his voice rising. “You’re not afraid to talk to Beyonce and Jay-Z, why not me? Why not me? I’m pretty important now, right?”