The former NBA star, who has organized basketball games in North Korea and hopes to set one up between that country and the U.S. territory Guam, has been traveling in Asia and wanted to pop over from Beijing to Pyongyang. Just one problem: Since September, the United States has barred its citizens from going there apart from special circumstances, following the June death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who spent over a year in a coma while in North Korean detainment.
As it happened, Rodman arrived in North Korea at the same time that Warmbier was being released, which he subsequently claimed was not a coincidence. That assertion was disputed by U.S. officials, who pointed to a secret mission to the country by a State Department representative who collected the student for evacuation.
However, it is true that Rodman is on an extremely short list of people who have met both Kim and Trump in person and can plausibly call each of them a friend. The 56-year-old former Pistons and Bulls star was twice a contestant on Trump’s reality-TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” and while he reportedly did not meet Kim in June, he has done so on previous trips, even revealing to the world in 2013 that the authoritarian ruler had a baby daughter.
When Rodman recently attempted to return to North Korea, though, he was dissuaded by U.S. officials. “Basically, they said it’s not a good time right now,” he told the Guardian.
Rodman, nicknamed “The Worm” during his playing days and known for unconventional behavior, refers to Kim as “the Marshal” and said he has been attempting for months to get Trump to make him a special envoy to North Korea. “I’ve been trying to tell Donald since day one: ‘Come talk to me, man … I’ll tell you what the Marshal wants more than anything … It’s not even that much,’” he said, while declining to tell the Guardian what Kim wants.
As for the basketball game he seeks to stage between North Korea and Guam, which he visited last week, Rodman told the Los Angeles Times on Monday, “The people in Guam are all about it. They love it. You get a team from North Korea, get these guys from Pyongyang. Play it in Beijing.”
Kim has repeatedly threatened to strike at or near Guam with ballistic missiles, including in August, when Trump responded by saying that such provocations would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” That has residents of the Pacific island very much on edge, but Rodman sought to reassure them while there, saying at a news conference, “You’re safe no matter what. You’re safe no matter what. You’re safe no matter what.”
“If you guys are concerned about if he’s going to try to bomb you guys, I’m telling you guys, no,” Rodman said (via Pacific News Center), while clad in a T-shirt showing himself, Trump and Kim over the word, “Unite,” all under the name of the website, PotCoin.com, which sponsored his June trip to North Korea.
“To me I always say he’s a big kid,” Rodman said at the time of Kim. “We always talk about basketball, that’s all we talk about is basketball. No politics, no nothing about America against North Korea, we don’t talk about stuff like that. It’s always very light.
“To me, he does not want to have war. The way he talks to me, he doesn’t want to have war at all. It may sound like that on the news, but I see that Donald Trump and him is more like two big kids. Who is the toughest? Because I don’t know why he would even, in my eyes, remotely even think about bombing anything in the world. I’ve never heard of him say it in my face and we talk all the time.”
Rodman told the Times that he had not spoken with Trump in some time, adding that, instead of insulting Kim on Twitter, the president should seek his counsel about the North Korean leader. “I would love for Donald Trump to call me and say, ‘What is he like?’ ” Rodman said. “He’s never met him, he’s never talked with his people. … You can say [Kim] is crazy, but what has he done to you? What has he done in general?”
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