Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday to meet leader Kim Jong Un and put the finishing touches on plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for a Jan. 8 exhibition game marking the leader’s birthday.
Rodman said the game is on track despite the recent execution of Kim’s uncle in a dramatic political purge.
Rodman’s visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace for one of the most powerful figures in the country.
But officials in Pyongyang say Jang’s removal has not caused any instability. Rodman’s visit – should it proceed uneventfully – could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge.
Rodman told The Associated Press in a brief interview at his Pyongyang hotel that he was undaunted by the recent political events.
“I can’t control what they do with their government, I can’t control what they say or how they do things here,” he said. “I’m just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country.”
Rodman has mostly avoided politics in his dealings with the North. He’s mainly focused on using basketball as a means of boosting understanding and communication and studiously avoided commenting on the North’s human rights record or its continued detainment of an American, Kenneth Bae, for allegedly committing anti-state crimes.
“North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see, so these players can actually see, that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media,” he said.