Dennis Rodman returned from North Korea on Saturday, some six months after his maiden trip to the isolated and authoritarian regime, with promises of a major announcement to come. The big news that Rodman broke in a Monday morning press conference in New York? There'll be a third trip to Pyongyang in his future, and he's apparently got his sights set on a longer-term, more significant basketball-based relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could include a new title for the Hall of Famer and rebounding legend: "Coach."
Days after returning from his second trip to visit Kim Jong Un — in which he held the leader's newborn baby — Rodman announced plans to stage two exhibition games there in January.
Touting his friendship with Kim Jong Un and criticizing President Barack Obama for not talking to him, Rodman says Monday he will go back to North Korea in December to help select local players for the game. He hopes to have stars such as former Chicago teammate Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone play.
Rodman, holding a cigar and wearing the shirt of a vodka company and a hat of a betting one that is funding the event, says Kim Jong Un has asked him to train his players to compete in the 2016 Olympics and offered to allow the Hall of Famer to write a book about him.
So, all in all, it sounds like this was a pretty eventful trip to North Korea. I mean, it didn't result in the release of imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae, but it did result in Rodman getting a coaching opportunity and us knowing the name of Kim Jong Un's child, so ... I guess that's something?
(And scoff all you want at the idea of Rodman writing Kim Jong Un's biography, but to be fair, he's published more books than most of us have.)
Not all the assembled reporters seemed to take Rodman's announcement seriously — one asked him to name the "top five dictators" he'd choose for a basketball game, which, yikes. The sentiment and atmosphere was captured well by For the Win's Chris Chase:
“I’m not a joke,” Rodman said at a press conference, while sitting in front of a bust of his own head and next to the owner of an Irish bookmaking site. “Take me seriously.”
He also said this:
Dennis Rodman, talking about North Korea: "Why Obama, are you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman?"
— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) September 9, 2013
... which is more a blustering wrestling promo than an honest inquiry as to why U.S. officials aren't engaging in diplomatic communications with North Korea — which, one would suspect, has much more to do with American opposition to the litany of reported human rights violations visited by North Korea on its citizens than with the president being afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman. This is the kind of thing that makes it hard to take Dennis Rodman seriously, even if he means what he says (which, again, given the promo-heavy overtone to Rodman's travel and work, feels uncertain at best).
Dismissive responses aside, though, Rodman held fast to the "basketball diplomacy" line, saying he wants to "bridge a gap" with North Korea" in the vein of ping-pong diplomacy with China and attempts at baseball diplomacy with Cuba.
"When those doors are opened, things may be different," Rodman said.
"Kim loves basketball, and he’s interested in building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges," he added. "I know in time Americans will see I’m just trying to help us all get along and see eye to eye through basketball, and with my friendship with Kim, I know this will happen."
It's an admirably optimistic attitude, but while ex-NBA stars head overseas for charity games and exhibitions all the time, Rodman might find it difficult to convince the likes of Pippen, Malone and other former players to adopt a similar view in the interest of building a roster for the exhibitions. I'm not sure whether it'd be more difficult than getting a North Korean men's national team that is presently unranked by FIBA and has never qualified for an Olympic basketball berth into the Summer Games, but still, it probably won't be easy, or especially likely.
Then again, just about everything about Dennis Rodman being the world's ostensible "pool reporter on North Korea" is pretty unlikely, I suppose.
If you'd like to watch the presser for yourself, here you go: