North Koreans – reportedly – cannot access the internet. The country they live in, reportedly, hoards the nation’s goods and betrays the citizens’ work and services in deference to a megalomaniacal leader that, like his father once did, still dresses like Mao Zedong.
Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, either while being pressed or genuinely enjoying himself, appears to like the country’s new leading light. After sitting courtside to a basketball game next to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s unrepentant dictator and 1990s basketball obsessive, Rodman was fawning in description of his new friendship. From the Associated Press:
"You have a friend for life," Rodman told Kim before a crowd of thousands at a gymnasium where they sat side by side, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play on mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.
The unlikely encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet Kim since the young North Korean leader took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop of tension between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North.
Rodman’s longtime agent, Darren Prince, called the North Korean excursion “all about peace and love” in an interview with the AP, but the cynic in us can’t help but take over.
I love Dennis Rodman. He was the unstoppable rebounding force behind the Chicago Bulls’ three NBA championships following Michael Jordan’s first comeback, and I honestly spent part of Wednesday night watching this YouTube video:
He’s also the guy that will show up at any party, any pathetic attempt at a red carpet showing, if you pay him a flat fee and promise the guy a ride, various libations and sensations, and an excuse to wear the logo of whatever bro-brand he’s sponsoring this year. Dennis, whose number retirement ceremony I attended and wept over in Detroit back in 2011, doesn’t have a lot of shame when it comes to talking this talking. After all, he once endorses Reebok Pumps.
VICE editor Shane Smith, who is documenting all of this for a fee, dropped this wonderful aside about the North Korean dictator:
"We knew that he's a big lover of basketball, especially the Bulls, and it was our intention going in that we would have a good-will mission of something that's fun," Smith said. "A lot of times, things just are serious and everybody's so concerned with geopolitics that we forget just to be human beings."
This isn’t about “geopolitics,” Shane. This isn’t some weird resentment the United States has with North Korea, some leftover kvetch from 1951. This is about human rights and what North Korean leaders put their citizens through.
Kim Jong Un may be a fan of basketball, and especially those mid-1990s Chicago Bulls teams, but he’s also a terrible person; otherwise he’d end the policies his predecessors have had in place for decades. Adolf Hitler liked Charlie Chaplin. Genghis Khan probably liked giant turkey legs. Jay Leno thinks his next guest has a great film opening on Friday. It doesn’t mean any of this should be excused.
And Rodman, a person that is clearly in need of various forms of interventions, seems like he’s being taken advantage of, here. The game he watched with North Korean dictator, featuring a local band of players and the famed Harlem Globetrotters, ended in a tie. A tie, friends. For a fee, and with the help of both VICE and HBO, Dennis Rodman is the dictator’s newest “friend for life.”
For Rodman, he collects a few shekels. For the dictator? He thinks Dennis is serious. For VICE and HBO? It’s a ha-ha “Remember the 90’s?”-moment that various basic cable types will snarkily joke about right before they get to the joke about Pogs and/or Monica Lewinsky. Looking forward to the documentary, boys.
If Dennis Rodman is our newest Nixon, and this is a form of diplomacy that results in something lasting and warming, then I’ll happily step back. In the meantime, let’s just call this another exploitative measure hustled up by a cable network, a dictatorial regime, and a magazine that should know better.
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