Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea on Tuesday for his second so-called "basketball diplomacy tour." And, Rodman says, the trip is definitely about basketball and not about the imprisoned American citizen Kenneth Bae, a missionary and tour guide who was sentenced earlier this year to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the country.
Speaking to Reuters from Beijing, Rodman said, "I've come out here to see my friend (Kim Jong-un) - and I want to talk about basketball." He added, "I'm not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae...I'm just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour." Since Rodman's first trip to North Korea earlier this year, freeing Kenneth Bae has been part of the former athlete's stated mission for a return trip. Speaking to Huffpost Live, Rodman indicated as late as last week that he has a solid motivation for trying to free Bae — it'd make everyone think he's awesome:
"I will definitely ask for Kenneth Bae's release...if I actually got him loose -- and I'm just saying this out the blue -- I'd be the most powerful guy in the world."
Here's the whole interview, which, fair warning, begins with a giant plug for Rodman's new vodka line:
Last May, as Bae was sent to a "special prison" in the country, Rodman also made a public indication that he thinks he might be able to do something about Bae:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
It looks like Rodman appointed himself the official ice-breaker for North Korean and American relations. since his much-publicized, Vice-sponsored trip last February that may or may not have resulted in a so exclusive no one's seen it interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Rodman also compares his own diplomatic prowess favorably to that of president Obama. Speaking to Sports Illustrated, the former basketball man put it this way in June: "Why it's been left to me to smooth things over, I don't know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it's the black guy's job." Rodman's diplomacy skills also earned rave reviews from Donald Trump.
It's not clear what, if anything, Rodman could actually do to free Bae, even if he tried. Rodman will, however, be going where the U.S. is otherwise currently absent, though not by choice: last week, the U.S. announced a trip to North Korea by special envoy Bob King. King was going to attempt to take Bae back with him to the states. Then, North Korea cancelled permission for that trip at the last minute, dashing short-term hopes for Bae's release.