Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
DPRK state media and the Associated Press reported on 26 February (Tuesday) that former National Basketball Association [US] forward and Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang, along with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, at the head of an international delegation involved in what has been termed “basketball diplomacy.” During his visit Mr. Rodman may meet with current DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong Un. According to KCNA, Rodman and the delegation of basketball players were greeted by Vice Chairman of the DPRK Olympic Committee and Vice Minister of Physical Culture and Sports, Son Kwang Ho. Rodman told Xinhua that “All the players are so excited to visit the country, and it will be a great fun in interacting with the Korean people” and Harlem Globetrotter Bull Bullard remarked that “We are expecting to have great exchanges with the Korean kids and families which we always love, no matter South or North. As far as basketball I know, we will show our skills and the magic of basketball as much as we can. We are going to have big smiles and many handshakes, and lots of entertainment with them.”
Dennis Rodman also tweeted that “I come in peace. I love the peoples of North Korea!,” “It’s true, I’m in North Korea. Looking forward to sitting down with Kim Jung Un. I love the people of North Korea,” “They love basketball here. Honored to represent The United States of America” and “I’m not a politician. Kim Jung Un & North Korean people are basketball fans. I love everyone. Period. End of story.”
According to Xinhua Rodman and the Globetrotters will stay in the DPRK from 26 February to 5 March. In addition to participating in basketball clinics with DPRK students and players, they will also visit Panmunjo’m and the Ku’msusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. A DPRK spokesperson told Xinhua that a “detailed schedule” would be disclosed later on Tuesday. Rodman’s trip is part of a documentary under production by the VICE Media Group, which will be aired on HBO in April.
Kim Jong Un, like his father the late leader Kim Jong Il, and his brother Kim Jong Chol, is a fan of basketball. KJU used to play pick-up games with his cousins and members of his security detail when he was teenager. One of the DPRK’s former basketball players, Choe Pu Il, is currently Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff. The last major sports exchange visit to the DPRK occurred in November 2012, and involved Japanese and DPRK wrestling and soccer (football) exhibition matches. One of the heads of the Japanese delegation was Kenji Inoki, a former wrestler who manages his own professional wrestling company. Interestingly, Dennis Rodman also had a career in professional wrestling in the late 1990s, a sport also enjoyed by members of the Kim family.
In reporting on Dennis Rodman’s arrival in the country Jessica Phelan of Global Post included remarks from DPRK expert Robert Carlin from a 2006 interview in which Carlin said “I think that would be a very useful, positive step. If someone wanted to make a serious opening gesture, that would probably not be a bad idea. These things carry only so much diplomatic freight, but they are the little things that begin to open relations.”