This morning, Dennis Rodman emerged into a conference room at Manhattan’s Soho Grand Hotel, cigar in his mouth and sparkly scarf around his neck, to a sea of eager reporters. Flanked by representatives from the International Crisis Group and the Irish betting firm Paddy Power, he rambled, seemingly without forethought, through references to his wedding dress, vague platitudes about the media, and adamant declarations that Kim Jong-un, a dictator who presides over “some of the world’s most brutalized people” according to Human Rights Watch, is a “very good guy.” Then, at the behest of his co-hosts, he finally came to his big announcement: he’s planning to organize two basketball games between North Korean players and retired NBA pros (Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen’s names came up), to be held in the DPRK on Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
Oh, and also: Rodman still thinks Obama and Hillary are “assholes,” he will coach the North Korean Olympics basketball team (who may or may not end up in labor camps, depending on their performance), the supreme leader just had a baby daughter named Ju-ae (Rodman was the first foreigner to hold her, natch), and Rodman and Jong-un are writing a book together (hopefully the cover looks something like this).
Rodman is a crazy person, an impenetrable wall of charisma with very little in the way of actual ideas behind it, and his Korean campaign seems like an attempt to keep himself in the spotlight on some level. It’s easy to see how he charmed the man he calls “the Marshal,” and attempts to criticize Rodman for their friendship are met with dismissal. In one memorable exchange, he claimed it isn’t his place to advocate for the release of Kenneth Bae, the American serving a 15-year prison camp sentence in North Korea, saying it he’s not going there “to try to rescue somebody.”
With all that in mind, I asked Paddy Power, the public face of the gambling company that bears his name, how he felt about his company potentially profiting from an event run in cooperation with the oppressive regime.
“We’re not diplomats or politicians,” he said. “Our motivation isn’t world peace, or anything like that. Our motivation is to put on this event. It’s going to be all Dennis’s dream…we’re going to put on a big event, hopefully watched by millions of people. Who knows? It might turn out to be a revenue earner. That would be great. But it’s all about the event”
“We’re not supporting the North Korean regime–the totalitarian regime–or anything like that,” he added. “We don’t have a political opinion.”
I turned to Dr. Daniel Pinkston, a representative from the International Crisis Group, the NGO that consulted with Paddy Power about putting the basketball games together. Was the Crisis Group worried about a public association with a Jong-un apologist?
“I can’t speak on Dennis’s behalf,” said Pinkston.
Pinkston also rejects idea that the games allow Jong-un to mount a charm offensive. “Sports are important to North Korean leadership; they try to exploit them for propaganda purposes. There’s a big policy push behind it. They try to do this to bolster the image of the state,” he said. “But this is not new…Nazi Germany tried to do this in the 1930s, the Soviet Union tried to do this, Cuba tried to do it, many states tried to do it. But I would argue that these fears–I understand it, I respect it–but I think the fears are exaggerated. And if the Soviet Union couldn’t do it, if Nazi Germany couldn’t do it, how is North Korea going to do that?”
How does Rodman feel? It’s tough to say–he wasn’t available for one-on-one interviews–but it seems like he’s just hoping he has your attention. Between defenses of the North Korean dictator and evasions of questions about his policies, he made an impassioned plea to the President. “Why, Obama, are you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman?” he asked at one point, growing more heated as he spoke. “You’re not afraid to talk to Beyonce and Jay Z. Why not me? I’m pretty important now, right?”
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)