Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives at Pyongyang airport, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. Rodman landed Tuesday in North Korea and said he plans to hang out with authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, have a good time and maybe bridge some cultural gaps but not be a diplomat. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:28AM
Dennis Rodman, the eccentric but sure-handed basketball star, recently was given the rare honor of holding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s newborn daughter, thereby confirming for U.S. intelligence that Kim did indeed have a baby.
On Monday, just back from his second visit to the hermit communist kingdom, Rodman held a New York press conference at which he announced plans to put together a team of former NBA All-Stars to play in a pair of exhibition games in North Korea in January. He also said Kim had asked him to coach North Korea’s 2016 Olympic basketball team.
Dressed as a walking billboard for capitalism — wearing the shirt of a vodka company and the hat of an Irish bookmaker that is reportedly putting up $3.5 million for Rodman to coach the Olympic team — Rodman told American sportswriters, “I’ll tell you guys one thing: Take me seriously.”
The flamboyant athlete has spent a lifetime making sure that they didn’t.
The guy could play; whether he can coach is a separate issue. Right away, there is a certain clash of lifestyles. Rodman is exuberant, candid to a fault, covered with tattoos and body piercings; he has been known to appear in a wedding dress. North Korean athletes keep straight faces on pain of being imprisoned and dress in identical gray boiler suits.
He has another problem. Having known little but the pleasures of Pyongyang, considered perhaps the most joyless world capital, Rodman may have trouble fielding an Olympic team once his players get off the airplane. The 2016 Olympics are being held in Rio de Janeiro. However, Rodman has a coaching tool largely denied to Western coaches: He can always have a few players shot in hopes the rest will shape up.
In assembling his team, Rodman certainly will want to consider North Korea’s ruler. If he’s half the athlete his father was, Rodman will certainly want him. The first time the elder Kim played golf, he made 11 holes in one, or so the story goes.
Announcement of the exhibition games contains an element of one-upmanship, as always with the North Koreans. The U.S. college basketball season already was scheduled to open with a Nov. 8 game at a U.S. Army base in South Korea between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Oregon Ducks.
Rodman, who calls Kim “the marshal” and claims him as a good friend, has refused to intervene on behalf of an ailing, imprisoned U.S. missionary. Still, Rodman is one of the few foreigners outside of gunshot range who has found anything good to say about Kim:
“If he wanted to bomb anybody in the world, he would have done it.”
Dale McFeatters is columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.