Former basketball star Dennis Rodman is headed to Pyongyang with a group of former NBA players, saying he won’t raise concerns about repression in North Korea because leader Kim Jong-Un is his friend and he loves him.
The eccentric ex-Chicago Bulls player is leading a team including retired NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker for an exhibition game against North Korea, which is being held Wednesday to mark Kim’s birthday.
Rodman told reporters at Beijing airport on Monday he hoped the contest could “open the doors” to “talk about certain things”.
“But I am not going to sit there and go ‘Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing. That is not the right way to do it. He is my friend first … and I love him,” Rodman said, sprinkling his comments with expletives.
The heavily-tattooed Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the North Korean leader since making his first trip there in February, when he declared Kim a “friend for life”.
Former NBA players Doug Christie, Craig Hodges and Charles D Smith are also in Rodman’s side for the exhibition game.
Rodman is known as much for his piercings, ever-changing hair colours and off-court antics as his court skills.
The flamboyant ex-power forward, who once wore a wedding dress to promote one of his books, has chosen an eclectic group of former NBA players to join him in North Korea.
Baker was a four time All-Star whose career was marred by bouts of depression and alcoholism.
The Boston Celtics ordered him to seek help for his problems midway through the 2003-04 season.
Anderson, who is reported to have fathered at least seven children by five women, earlier this year appeared in a play entitled The Penis Monologues.
The young Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls, for whom Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles in the 1990s.
Last month Kim had his uncle and former mentor Jang Song-Thaek executed. “I am not worried about his uncle,” Rodman said in Beijing in response to questions about the move.
The player known as “The Worm” is one of the few Westerners to have met Kim, who took over following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il.