By DAN GELSTON
2014-01-05 02:01 PM
Dennis Rodman has named a team of former National Basketball Association players to participate in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Rodman leads a team that includes former NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, and Vin Baker. Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith are on the team, as well. They will play against a top North Korean Senior National team on Wednesday, marking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's birthday.
Rodman is the highest profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power after his father died in late 2011.
Rodman calls the game his version of "basketball diplomacy."
"My previous travels have allowed me to feel the enthusiasm and warmth of fans," Rodman said. "The positive memories and smiles on the faces of the children and families are a testament to the great efforts we have put into fulfilling our mission wherever we go voiding any politics. We are all looking forward to arriving in Pyongyang, meeting the citizens, visiting various charities and using the opportunity to develop new relationships that result in our annual return."
Rodman made his latest visit to North Korea shortly before Christmas to train the North Korean basketball team, though he did not meet with Kim. Rodman, known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for his basketball skills, traveled to the secretive state for the first time last February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television. Rodman has called Kim a "friend for life."
Rodman said his trips would not be affected by the recent execution of Kim's uncle.
Smith, who played for the New York Knicks, said he was looking forward to participating in the game with Rodman.
"Dennis and I are total opposites but we work very well together," Smith said. "Dennis is one of the few people I know that doesn't just talk but actually lives a culturally diverse life. We have traveled everywhere together so I was not surprised with his first visit to North Korea.
"Cultural exchange is about sharing. Sharing ideas and thoughts on education, culture and life."
Rodman has been criticized for not talking about North Korea's human rights record, described as one of the world's worst by activists, the U.S. State Department and North Korean defectors. The defectors have repeatedly testified about the government's alleged use of indiscriminate killings, rapes, beatings and prison camps holding as many as 120,000 people deemed opponents of authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule.