The bizarre friendship between former the NBA star and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been the subject of intense ridicule and debate following Rodman’s latest visit to Pyongyang. To mark the birthday of Kim Jong-un, Rodman organized a basketball match between retired NBA veterans and North Korean players, with the home side emerging as victors. The famously flamboyant Rodman was ridiculed for singing, “Happy Birthday” to Kim, but more so for his disastrous live interview with CNN, where the former slam-dunker struggled for coherency in a drunken stupor. Rodman issued an explanation for the interview shortly after claiming that he had too much to drink, and apologized for making insensitive statements about Kenneth Bae, the American evangelical activist arrested by North Korean authorities while on a trip as a tourist in 2012 over accusations that he incited citizens to overthrow the government in Pyongyang.
Rodman was deeply criticized for not doing enough to promote the plight of Bae, and for traveling to the country so shortly after the high-profile purge of Kim Jong-un’s uncle-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, who handled much of Pyongyang’s economic affairs and its trade relations with China.
Rodman has always been frank toward the media about how his trips to Pyongyang have no political objectives, but the less-apparent benefits of his “basketball diplomacy” tour are often lost on Western commentators.