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Tensions Rising With North Korea, but Dennis Rodman Is There

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02/26/2013 10:03 PM
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Tensions Rising With North Korea, but Dennis Rodman Is There
Dennis Rodman may not come across as the most natural choice for a sports star turned American diplomat, but North Korea apparently begs to differ. Rodman has traveled to Pyongyang along with three Harlem Globetrotters and a documentary film crew for some basketball exhibitions and, the film company hopes, an audience with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is said to be a devoted basketball fan.

The group landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday, giving a round of interviews to journalists at the airport. “We got invited and we just came over to have some fun,” Rodman said. “Hopefully, everything will be O.K. and the kids will have a good time with the games.”

The visit to North Korea, a country with a brutal dictatorship, comes at a particularly tense time in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy, with North Korea’s recent announcement of a nuclear test aggravating an already strained relationship.

But one warm spot between the countries is apparently basketball, something the Vice magazine founder Shane Smith realized while filming two documentaries in North Korea recently. He visited the country’s national museum, the Hall of Trophies, where a Michael Jordan-signed basketball given to the former leader Kim Jong-il in 2000 by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is displayed prominently among national treasures. Kim Jong-il was obsessed with the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, a fascination he apparently passed along to his son, the current leader.

“It’s weird because when you go there, it’s all very anti-American,” Smith said. “North Korean kids are fed anti-American propaganda from pretty much the day they are born. But it’s O.K. to like American basketball.”

[link to www.nytimes.com]