Angry Dennis Rodman defends North Korea basketball game

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by Laura Smith-Spark and Jethro Mullen, CNN

azfamily.com

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 7:25 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 7 at 8:05 AM

(CNN) -- Basketball star Dennis Rodman on Tuesday defended his controversial visit to North Korea with a team of former NBA players, saying it was a "great idea for the world."

In an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day" from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, Rodman reacted angrily when pressed on whether the group should have traveled there given recent events in the secretive country.

The trip takes place just weeks after North Korea shocked the world by announcing the purge and execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle. There are also concerns for the welfare of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, who's been detained there for more than a year.

The other former NBA players are due to take part in a controversial basketball game on the birthday of Kim Jong Un, the country's young, unpredictable leader. The friendly contest with North Korea's team is planned for Wednesday, when Kim is believed to turn 31.

Apparently referring to Kim, Rodman said, "I love my friend. This is my friend."

Asked if he would take the opportunity to ask North Korean leaders about Bae, Rodman suggested the Korean-American had done something wrong but did not say what that was.

Growing angry with Cuomo and jabbing his finger toward the camera for emphasis, Rodman said, "Kenneth Bae did one thing ... If you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this.

"You know, you've got 10 guys here, 10 guys here, they've left their families, they've left their damn families, to help this country, as in a sports venture. That's 10 guys, all these guys here, do anyone understand that? Christmas, New Year's ...

"I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them ... they dared to do one thing, they came here."

Fellow player Charles D. Smith tried to calm the discussion but Rodman carried on, becoming increasingly agitated.

"Ain't no shill ... let me do this," he said to Smith, shaking his hand from his arm. Addressing Cuomo, he continued, "Really? Really? I want to tell you one thing. People round the world, around the world, I wanna do one thing.

"You're the guy behind the mic right now. We're the guys here doing one thing. We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we're gonna take? Do you sir, are you going to take the abuse?

"One day, one day, this door is going to open because these 10 guys here, all of us, Christie, Vin, Dennis, Charles, ... I mean everybody here, if we could open the door just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing."

Some of the players visible in shot behind Rodman looked increasingly uncomfortable as he challenged the CNN anchor.

Smith pointed out that the basketball players made up only a part of a group of about 50 people visiting North Korea, with other Americans among them.

'He's got a great heart'

Smith also sought to defend Rodman, saying the visit was about basketball, not politics.

The players were invited by North Korea, Smith said, and are there as a kind of "cultural exchange" and to "put smiles on people's faces," not to influence the country's leaders.

"We've been doing these games for 3½ years," he said. "Outside of what people know of Dennis, you don't know Dennis. He's got a great heart, his passion is about children and families, that's why we are here.

"We are here because it's about doing great will around the world."

Smith outlined the charity projects he has been involved in worldwide through his sport, including visiting typhoon victims in Asia.

"We're doing what we do, we play basketball and that's what we love to do," Smith said.

"We didn't know it was going to take this kind of negative spin with what we are doing because we're not politicians, we're not ambassadors. We're here to do what we've been doing most of our lives."

Smith apologized for "the storm that has been created by our presence."

He also suggested that Rodman's use of the word "friend" for Kim should not be taken at face value.

Darren Prince, Rodman's agent for 16 years, told CNN on Sunday that Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker, Craig Hodges, Doug Christie, and Smith would play against the North Korean senior national team.

The current trip is Rodman's fourth to the isolated nation, part of a project he has described as "basketball diplomacy."

But the U.S. State Department says that it has nothing to do with Rodman's visits to North Korea and that attention should be focused on the brutality of Kim's regime.

"Friend for life"

Rodman, 52, struck up an unlikely friendship with Kim when he traveled to North Korea for the first time in February, bringing a team of Harlem Globetrotters for an exhibition game watched by Kim, who is a basketball fan.

Kim later met and dined with the flamboyant basketball star, and Rodman told his host he had "a friend for life," shrugging off international condemnation of the country's human rights record.

However, on his last trip -- which took place last month less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of Kim's uncle and top aide, Jang Song Thaek -- Rodman didn't get to meet Kim.

The international outcry over the killing of Jang prompted Paddy Power, the online betting company that had supported Rodman's project, to withdraw its association with the event.

But Rodman has pressed on with the plan. He met and coached the North Korean team on his previous trip last month.

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Ex-NBA player says NKorea game dwarfed by politics

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Former NBA star Charles D. Smith says he feels remorse for coming to Pyongyang with Dennis Rodman for a game on the North Korean leader's birthday because the event has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman's own comments.

Smith and other former NBA players are scheduled to play with Rodman against a team of North Koreans on Wednesday that organizers say leader Kim Jong Un is expected to attend. Many of the players on Tuesday expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home in the United States.

Smith, who played for the New York Knicks, said the North Korea trip has been dwarfed by politics and Rodman's frequent boasts about his close friendship with Kim.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Rodman, ex-NBA All Stars arrive in North Korea

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Dennis Rodman said Monday that a game he and other former National Basketball Association players are planning in North Korea will be a "birthday present" for one of their most unlikely fans: leader Kim Jong Un.

Rodman's squad - featuring ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker - will play against a team of North Koreans on Wednesday, which is believed to be Kim's birthday. The former NBA players, who arrived in Pyongyang on Monday, also include Eric "Sleepy" Floyd, guard Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith, who played for the New York Knicks. Four streetball players also are on the squad.

Rodman told The Associated Press he was glad to be in North Korea for the game, though he said he has gotten death threats for his repeated visits. He said proceeds from the game would go to a charity for the deaf in North Korea.

"The marshal is actually trying to change this country in a great way," Rodman said of Kim, using the leader's official title. "I think that people thought that this was a joke, and Dennis Rodman is just doing this because fame and fortune." Instead, he said, he sees the game as a "birthday present" for Kim and his country.

"Just to even have us here, it's an awesome feeling. I want these guys here to show the world, and speak about North Korea in a great light," he said. "I hope people will have a different view about North Korea."

NBA Commissioner David Stern issued a statement Monday night.

"The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman's North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department," Stern said. "Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them."

The game will be another milestone in Rodman's surprising relationship with Kim, who rarely meets with foreigners and about whom very little is known outside of North Korea. Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.

Rodman traveled to North Korea for the first time last February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series. After spending time together, Rodman called Kim a "friend for life" and came back just before Christmas to hold tryouts for the North Korean basketball team, though he did not meet with Kim then.

Rodman has been given the red-carpet treatment on each of his trips, but visiting North Korea for any high-profile American is a political minefield. To keep the game itself friendly, the two sides will only play against each other in the first half, and then mix together in the second.

Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea since the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are still based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

Relations are also tense because of the North's development of nuclear weapons and its threats to use them if a conflict breaks out with Washington or Seoul. Rodman also has been slammed for not trying to use his influence with Kim to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary with health problems who is being held in North Korea on charges of committing "anti-state" crimes.

To make the trip more complicated, Kim's once-powerful uncle was recently executed for a long litany of alleged crimes, including trying to divide the regime and usurp power from Kim. Although that has generated speculation abroad about the regime's unity, North Korean officials say the execution settled the issue and there is no instability.

Rodman, however, says none of that is his concern.

"I'm not a president, I'm not a politician, I'm not an ambassador," he said before arriving. "I'm just an athlete and the reason for me to go is to bring peace to the world, that's it. That's all I want, no money. I want no money, no money."

Former Knicks player Smith said he hopes the game will lead to better relations between the two countries.

"It's new being here, but overall the concept is not new," he said. "The team is made up of a lot of guys who really care, that's the most important, it's not about bringing dream-teamers. It's about guys who are coming that want to be a part of this, that care, and really that care about humanity."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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