Dennis Rodman holds basketball tryouts in North Korea (video)


Dennis Rodman speaks to North Korean basketball players during practice Friday. (David Guttenfelder / AP)

Dennis Rodman held tryouts in Pyongyang today for the North Korean team that he hopes will challenge U.S. basketball stars in a special exhibition game on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday. The tryouts came only a few days after the execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once a powerful member of the regime.

As always, the NBA Hall of Famer seemed utterly unaware of the brutal details of his friend Kim’s dictatorship.

He is trying to form a team of 12 American players, but some of them are reluctant to join him in Pyongyang, he told the Associated Press. “I’m just telling them, you know, don’t be afraid, man. It’s all love, it’s all love here,” he said.

It will be interesting to see who in the NBA he manages to persuade, if anyone.

Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean refugee, wrote a letter to Rodman that was published in The Washington Post earlier this week. He described his childhood in a North Korean labor camp and called on Rodman to use his influence with Kim to help improve life for the country’s people:

You can see satellite pictures of Camp 14 and four other labor camps on your smartphone. At this very moment, people are starving in these camps. Others are being beaten, and someone soon will be publicly executed as a lesson to other prisoners to work hard and obey the rules. I grew up watching these executions, including the hanging of my mother.

On orders of the guards in Camp 14, inmates are forced to marry and create children to be raised by guards to be disposable slaves. Until I escaped in 2005, I was one of those slaves. My body is covered with scars from torture I endured in the camp. …

Mr. Rodman, I cannot presume to tell you to cancel your trip to North Korea. It is your right as an American to travel wherever you wish and to say whatever you want. It is your right to drink fancy wines and enjoy yourself in luxurious parties, as you reportedly did in your previous trips to Pyongyang. But as you have a fun time with the dictator, please try to think about what he and his family have done and continue to do. Just last week, Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle. Recent satellite pictures show that some of the North’s labor camps, including Camp 14, may be expanding. The U.N. World Food Programme says four out of five North Koreans are hungry. Severe malnutrition has stunted and cognitively impaired hundreds of thousands of children. Young North Korean women fleeing the country in search of food are often sold into human-trafficking rings in China and beyond.

The absurdity of Rodman’s relationship with Kim was particularly pronounced a day after the regime threatened war against South Korea via fax. The message was an apparently nonsensical warning that North Korea might attack without warning, the Wall Street Journal reported. The fax line is the only link between the two countries for military communications. North Korea issued the threat in response to demonstrations in Seoul where protesters burned effigies of Kim.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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