By Rob Mahoney
January 06, 2014

Dennis Rodman will soon be returning to North Korea for Kim Jong Un's birthday. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images) Dennis Rodman will soon be returning to North Korea for Kim Jong-un's birthday. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Dennis Rodman's turn as a self-appointed diplomat to North Korea continues, this time with company.

Rodman announced this week that he will take a team of former NBA players to Pyongyang for the birthday of North Korean "supreme leader" Kim Jong-un. The assembled team -- which includes Kenny Anderson, Vin Baker, Clifford Robinson, Charles Smith, Doug Christie, Craig Hodges, and Sleepy Floyd -- will play in an exhibition game against the North Korean national team as part of Jong-un's birthday celebration.

Thus continues what Rodman has in the past referred to as "basketball diplomacy." Rodman has publicly admonished president Barack Obama for refusing to open up discussions with North Korea through any channel, and in effect has taken matters into his own hands. Rodman may not act with any kind of state authority, but by embracing Jong-un's affection for basketball and befriending the ruler on those terms, he has become a frequent visitor to Pyongyang. Rodman, who calls Jong-un his "friend for life," clarified the nature of his visits to the Associated Press:

"It's about trying to connect two countries together in the world, to let people know that: Do you know what? Not every country in the world is that bad, especially North Korea," Rodman told The Associated Press in an interview outside his hotel before heading to the Beijing airport with the team.

"People say so many negative things about North Korea. And I want people in the world to see it's not that bad."

As part of his efforts to help the world understand that North Korea is "not that bad," Rodman starred in a commercial for Wonderful Pistachios -- in which a Jong-un lookalike erases the NBA player turned diplomat with a faux-nuclear explosion.

Back in July, Rodman made the cover of Sports Illustrated for his unique diplomatic bent. Rodman laid out his purpose in continuing his visits to North Korea in the corresponding story, and discussed his bizarre role in international affairs between two isolated nations:

“My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries,” Rodman says. “Why it’s been left to me to smooth things over, I don’t know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it’s the black guy’s [Obama's] job. But I’ll tell you this: If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.”

In the story, Rodman specifically stated that he had "called on the Supreme Leader to do [him] a solid by releasing Kenneth Bae.” Bae is an American citizen currently imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Korean government. He was, at the time of his arrest, leading a small group of European tourists in Rajin-guyok.

At the same time, Rodman has thus far shrugged off any responsibility to broach the subject of North Korea's human rights violations with Jong-un. Rodman spoke with Calum MacLeod of USA Today at the airport in Beijing on Monday, just prior to completing the last leg of his trip to Pyongyang for the aforementioned exhibition game:

"(It's) not my job" to talk human rights, he said Monday. "This game is for his birthday, and hopefully this open the doors and we can actually talk about certain things and we can do certain things. But I'm not going to sit there and go 'hey, guy, you're doing the wrong thing.' It's not the right thing to do, he's my friend first. .. I love him," said Rodman.

"When the time comes, when I do that (discuss issues such as human rights), I am going to sit down and talk to all the people around the world. I am going to tell you everything that happened," he said.


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