Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday to help finalize plans for an exhibition game that will feature 12 former NBA players on January 8, leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
This trip is the third one this year to the closed nation for the former NBA star. Rodman’s visit comes just a week after North Korea announced the execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Taek, for attempts to overthrow the state, according to North Korea’s official news agency. Rodman said plans for the big game are still underway.
“I can’t control what they do with their government, Rodman told the Associated Press at his hotel in Pyongyang. ”I can’t control what they say or how they do things here. 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.”
The 52-year-old’s trip is sponsored by the online betting company Paddy Power. Rodman and a documentary crew are scheduled to spend four days training a team of North Korean basketball players for the exhibition.
Rory Scott, a Paddy Power spokesman, said earlier this month that this trip is nonpolitical, but proves “once again that sport has the power to rise above all issues.”
It has not been confirmed whether Rodman will meet with Kim Jong-un, whom Rodman has called a “a friend for life” and a “very good guy” despite international criticism of the country’s human rights record, particularly with the detention of Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.
“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,” Rodman told the AP.
He tweeted earlier this year that he wanted the North Korean leader to “do him a solid” and free Bae. But upon his return from his second trip in September, Rodman told reporters that it was “not my job to talk about Kenneth Bae.”
“Ask Obama about that, ask Hillary Clinton about that,” Rodman said. “Ask those —holes.”
Rodman urged President Obama to give the leader a call in a later interview. “You don’t have to talk about politics,” he said. “Meet him or even give him a call. That’s all he wants.”
The five-time NBA champion first traveled to North Korea in February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by VICE media. After his second trip in September, Rodman announced the January exhibition in Pyongyang.
“I’ve come over to see my friend, and people always give me a little hard time about me saying that,” said Rodman. “I’m very proud to say he’s my friend, because he hasn’t done anything to put a damper, to say any negative things about my country.”