Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman in North Korea; Obama administration shrugs

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 26, 2013 

— Former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman, known for his vivid hair colors and flamboyant fashion, seems to be reviving his bad-boy persona, arriving Tuesday in North Korea on a surprise trip to the pariah state.

The State Department said curtly that it didn’t have any position on this “private travel,” though Rodman said on Twitter that he was looking forward to meeting the reclusive leader Kim Jong Un, who just set off global alarms with a third nuclear test that’s drawing a sharp rebuke from the United Nations.

“It’s true, I’m in North Korea,” Rodman tweeted on his official Twitter account. “Looking forward to sitting down with Kim Jung Un. I love the people of North Korea.”

He added, “I come in peace.”

Rodman – along with some members of the Harlem Globetrotters – is in Pyongyang for a filmed visit that Vice, a media production company based in Brooklyn, has dubbed “basketball diplomacy.” He’s scheduled to lead a basketball clinic for children and shoot hoops with top North Korean players for a Vice production that’s set to air on HBO in April.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the department hadn’t been notified of Rodman’s travel plans, and he dismissed the journey as a harmless visit to play basketball with children who are growing up in one of the world’s most isolated countries.

That was far different from the stance the department took in January when Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson visited North Korea. Then, the State Department emphasized the lack of diplomatic relations and called the trip “unhelpful.”

Ventrell said Rodman’s case had a different mission, so the department wouldn’t take a position or seek to debrief him on his return.

“We’re talking about somebody who is a former significant American official and businessman who were going there on different, for different purposes,” Ventrell said of Richardson and Schmidt. “Here, we’re talking about sports.”

Email: hallam@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @hannahallam

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