Dennis Rodman worms his way into North Korea
By JEAN H. LEE
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) Former NBA star Dennis Rodman brought his basketball skills and flamboyant style - tattoos, nose studs and all - to the country with possibly the world's strictest dress code: North Korea.
Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as "The Worm" became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader Kim Jong Un is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Rodman won three championships with the club.
Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and a VICE correspondent for a news show on North Korea that will air on HBO later this year, VICE producers told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before they landed.
"It's my first time, I think it's most of these guys' first time here, so hopefully everything's going to be OK , and hoping the kids have a good time for the game," Rodman told reporters after arriving in North Korea on Tuesday.
Rodman and VICE's producers said the Americans hope to engage in a little "basketball diplomacy" by running a basketball camp for children and playing with North Korea's top basketball stars.
"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes," said Shane Smith, the VICE founder who is host of the upcoming series, referring to North Korea by the initials of its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing."
The notoriously unpredictable and irrepressible Rodman might seem an odd fit for regimented North Korea, where men's fashion rarely ventures beyond military khaki and where growing facial hair is forbidden.
Shown a photo of a snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest, one North Korean in Pyongyang recoiled and said: "He looks like a monster!"
But Rodman is also a Hall of Fame basketball player and one of the best defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. During a storied, often controversial career, he won five NBA championships - a feat appreciated even in North Korea.
Rodman, now 51, was low-key and soft-spoken in cobalt blue sweatpants and a Polo Ralph Lauren cap. There was a bit of flash: white-rimmed sunglasses and studs in his nose and lower lip. But he told AP he was there to teach basketball and talk to people, not to stir up trouble.
Showier were three Harlem Globetrotters dressed in fire-engine red. Rookie Moose Weekes flashed the crowd a huge smile as he made his way off the Air Koryo plane.
"We use the basketball as a tool to build cultural ties, build bridges among countries," said Buckets Blakes, a Globetrotters veteran. "We're all about happiness and joy and making people smile."
Rodman's trip is the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the U.S. It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of U.N. bans against atomic and missile activity.
Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.
Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.
North Korea characterizes the satellite launch as a peaceful bid to explore space, but says the nuclear test was meant as a deliberate warning to Washington. Pyongyang says it needs to build nuclear weapons to defend itself against the U.S., and is believed to be trying to build an atomic bomb small enough to mount on a missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.
VICE, known for its sometimes irreverent journalism, has made two previous visits to North Korea, coming out with the "VICE Guide to North Korea." The HBO series, which will air weekly starting April 5, features documentary-style news reports from around the world.
The Americans also will visit North Korea's national monuments, the SEK animation studio and a new skate park in Pyongyang.
The U.S. State Department hasn't been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group, a senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public. The official said the department does not vet U.S. citizens' private travel to North Korea and urges U.S. citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website.
In a now-defunct U.S.-North Korean agreement in which Washington had planned last year to give food aid to Pyongyang in exchange for nuclear concessions, Washington had said it was prepared to increase people-to-people exchanges with the North, including in the areas of culture, education and sports.
Promoting technology and sports are two major policy priorities of Kim Jong Un, who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Along with soccer, basketball is enormously popular in North Korea, where it's not uncommon to see basketball hoops set up in hotel parking lots or in schoolyards. It's a game that doesn't require much equipment or upkeep.
The U.S. remains Enemy No. 1 in North Korea, and North Koreans have limited exposure to American pop culture. But they know Michael Jordan, a former teammate of Rodman's when they both played for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
During a historic visit to North Korea in 2000, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented Kim Jong Il, famously an NBA fan, with a basketball signed by Jordan that later went on display in the huge cave at Mount Myohyang that holds gifts to the leaders.
North Korea even had its own Jordan wannabe: Ri Myong Hun, a 7-foot-9 star player who is said to have renamed himself "Michael" after his favorite player and moved to Canada for a few years in the 1990s in hopes of making it into the NBA.
Even today, Jordan remains well-loved here. At the Mansudae Art Studio, which produces the country's top art, a portrait of Jordan spotted last week, complete with a replica of his signature and "NBA" painted in one corner, seemed an odd inclusion among the propaganda posters and celadon vases on display.
An informal poll of North Koreans revealed that "The Worm" isn't quite as much a household name in Pyongyang.
But Kim Jong Un was a basketball-crazy adolescent when Rodman was with the Bulls, and when the Harlem Globetrotters kept up a frenetic travel schedule worldwide.
In a memoir about his decade serving as Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef, a man who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto recalled that basketball was the young Kim Jong Un's biggest passion, and that the Chicago Bulls were his favorite.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Lee, AP's bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul, at twitter.com/newsjean.
Updated February 26, 2013
Matt joined the program to discuss his first ever cornhole contest and to break down the Patriots offseason. He told the guys that he was upset that the Pats were unable to bring Wes Welker back to the team.
In the latest edition of the "It Is What It Is" podcast, Chris Price and CSNNE's Mike Giardi take a look at the Patriots offseason on both sides of the ball, try and get a handle on which new guys will make an impact first, and whether or not the Patriots have altered their style when it comes to drafting and developing wide receivers.
We check in with Danny Ainge for our first talk to him since the Celtics season ended last weekend. We talk about the future of the team, KG, Pierce, Doc Rivers and more, as Danny directly answers the rumors being floated by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.
Jackie Mac joins the show to discuss the trade rumors swirling around Paul Pierce, KG, Doc Rivers and the Celtics. She also discusses the future of the Celtics head coach.
Stephen A. joined the program to discuss the trade rumors he has reported regarding a possible trade including Doc Rivers and the Clippers. Stephen A. also told the guys that he has heard that Danny and Doc may be tiring of working together.
Ben joined the program to discuss the return of Terry Francona and said that he always had a good relationship with the former manager. Ben added that he thinks Ellsbury is in a slump due in part to the amount of left handed pitchers the team has faced.
Salty spoke with Joe Castiglione & Dave O'Brien after he helped his team to a 6-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox tonight. The Red Sox return to Fenway after going 6-3 on the road trip.
We check in with Red Sox Manager John Farrell live from Chicago and get his take on a good week for the Sox, a tough series since then in Chicago, and other team related notes.
McGuire joins Mut and Merloni to discuss the Bruins game 3 win, the Rangers awful power play, and the Shawn Thornton Derek Dorsett altercation.
Shawn joined the program to discuss his big night at MSG. He told the guys that it is not Marchand's job to fight and that he needs to be on the ice and out of the penalty box.
Cleveland Indians hottest team in baseball, yet remain last in attendance May 19, 2013 By AJ Kaufman 6 Comments There’s a scene in Major League where Bob Uecker, portraying the radio voice of the Indians, bemoans, “In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.” Well, that was nearly 25 years ago and fictional, but today’s reality is that Cleveland has won 17 of its last 21, and currently tops the AL Central with a mark of 25-17. No one in the majors is better than the Indians in the past month (20-7). That’s great news. The bad news, however, is the Tribe somehow remain in the MLB cellar when it comes to attendance. How can this be? The fact that I wrote on this same topic almost to the day last year – when only Tampa Bay drew fewer fans than Cleveland - may be even more troubling. Though roughly 34,000 watched a walk-off win Friday night against Seattle, perfect weather and free caps weren’t enough to draw more than 36,000 Saturday and Sunday combined. What did the Indians do in those tilts? They nabbed another walk-off win on Saturday, then the Indians crushed the great Felix Hernandez Sunday behind Justin Masterson, arguably the AL’s best pitcher right now. Fun fact: The Indians have already faced eight Cy Young Award winners in 2013: Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, David Price, Justin Verlander and Hernandez. They have won seven out those eight matchups. Simply astounding. This offseason, the much-maligned Indians front office finally made a legitimate attempt to improve the team through free agency. I’m not talking an Ubaldo Jimenez-like trade, but rather smart acquisitions that brought veterans Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher to Cleveland. In addition to being a fantastic place to watch a game due to great egress and ingress, with extremely affordable tickets, the best promo lineup anywhere, Jacobs Field boasts overall, cooler, less muggy summer weather than most Midwestern locales. The team also lowered beer and hot dog prices to $4 and $3 respectively. What other professional stadium in any sport offers that? I have visited 28 of the 30 current Major League Baseball stadia, and few top The Jake when all angles are considered. I say that as a baseball fan, not an Indians fan. As for the putative “economic” angle, these are the same people who spend insane amounts of money to watch terrible football every fall and show up in decent numbers for putrid basketball in the winter. Irrespective of season length, those sports charge up to 10 times the price for a ticket, and the atmosphere isn’t half as fan-friendly as baseball. I understand fans’ lack of willingness to get on board to some degree. A decent recap of Cleveland’s decade of “rebuilding” can be read here and the team suffered a horrific collapse last August. However, in addition to all the benefits of attending games at Jacobs (now Progressive) Field, fans should also realize the team has potential and often exceeds preseason aspirations at any point without warning. Cleveland hosts the rival Detroit Tigers — heavy favorites to repeat as AL Central champs — Tuesday and Wednesday nights before hitting the road. The temperature should be pleasant at first pitch each evening so you’d expect The Jake to be full to watch the best hitter on the planet right now — but don’t count on it.
Buster Olney joins Mut and Merloni to talk about the struggling Ellsbury and what that is doing to his contract value when he becomes a free agent.
Mut and Merloni discuss the Derek Dorsett, Brad Marchand, and Shawn Thornton altercation and how great it was.
With the Bruins up 3-0 in the series, we talk to Jack Edwards and take your calls. We touch on all things B's-Rangers and also focus on the future of the Bruins three promising young defensemen.
We touch on four topics we haven't talked about today... topics today include: Brian Urlacher retires, NFL schedule expansion, Sergio Garcia and more...
We discuss Spain's Sergio Garcia and his ignorant, racist comments against Tiger Woods.
The Bruins look to take a 3-0 series lead, Jon Lester gets his first loss, Dwight Howard has options in free agency.
Today on the Daily Planet the Bruins have a 2-0 lead over the New york Rangers, the Red Sox are back on the winning sde of things, and the noteable birthdays of the day.
The Bruins have almost finished raking the Leafs, the Red Sox struggle from the mound, Miami Heat fans show their level of class.
The Jerks are joined by another, Jerk Minihane.
They're like a ray of morning sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day.
....uhhhh.....a bunch of bombs over there....
Linda explains how the shootout transpired in Watertown during the early morning hours. She saw the first suspect mortally wounded and police beginning the manhunt for the second suspect.More from this show
Jeff Bauman, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, joined the show to give the guys an update of his condition and a first-hand account of that terrible day. Jeff told the guys how he wrote the description of the bomber as soon as he could. Mr. Bauman added that he is aided every day with the knowledge that he is alive and the terrorist that detonated the bomb is dead.More from this show
Terry Francona joins the Dennis and Callahan Show to discuss his first-place Indians team as well as his time in Boston. The former Boston manager also touches on his recent book co-authored by Dan Shaughnessy and Shaughnessy's recent dust-up with David Ortiz.More from this show
Elliotte Friedman joined the show to discuss the Bruins domination of the series thus far. He said that while nothing is certain he cannot see a way in which the Rangers come back and win the series.More from this show