Flashback: Kim Jong Il tried to get Michael Jordan to visit North Korea


Michael Jordan and now-deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. (AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun's interest in basketball goes back to before Dennis Rodman's visit this week, when the two of them reportedly watched a basketball game together. His father, eccentric dictator Kim Jong Il, reportedly also loved the sport. You might even say that he was obsessed.

NKNews, in an in-depth article about the Kim family's fixation on basketball, references a terrific 2006 feature by the San Diego Union-Tribune on Kim Jong Il's love for the sport, which verged well into eccentricity.

Dennis Rodman is, I believe, the first high-profile American celebrity to ever meet with a North Korean leader. That's excluding a few American political figures who went on diplomatic missions.

But according to the Union-Tribute story, Kim was just following in his father's footsteps in inviting the Bulls players to visit. Over a decade ago, Kim Jong Il tried to get Michael Jordan to come to Pyongyang. Had he succeeded, Jordan and not Rodman would have been the first American celebrity visitor.

Here's the Union-Tribune's account:

[In 2001,] Jordan's management team was approached about the athlete making a goodwill trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim. The North Korean government, according to documents obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, sent a letter authorizing the request, and Samsung, a South Korean electronics company interested in promoting reunification of the Koreas, had offered to underwrite the venture.

Jordan respectfully declined.

We'll have more on the Kim regime's long, odd fixation with basketball later today. Check back.

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Caitlin Dewey · February 28, 2013