Former NBA star and “basketball diplomat” Dennis Rodman confirmed his plans to return to North Korea next week, despite the apparent power struggle surrounding the execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and second-in-command Jang Song-Thaek. The visit will coincide with Kim’s birthday, and Rodman has promised to work with the Hermit Kindgom’s national basketball team ahead of a January 8 exhibition game.
“Yes, I’m going to North Korea to train the basketball team,” Rodman told the AP. “I’m going to bring American players over there … I’m going to be the most famous person in the world when you see American people holding hands and hoping the doors can be opened. If they can … I’m going back for his birthday. Special.”
Kim Jong-Un, an NBA fan since his youth, welcomed Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters to Pyongyang last February. That trip, sponsored by Vice under a partnership with HBO, stirred controversy – but solidified the unlikely friendship between Kim and Rodman.
Upon his return, Rodman described Kim as his “friend for life.” He even revealed the name of Kim’s daughter, Je-Ae, in February.
Rodman’s latest trip will take place less than a month after the controversial incarceration and release of an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from the US. Even more troubling is its proximity to the violent purge of Kim’s uncle – who was allegedly killed, along with his subordinates, by a combination of machine gun fire and flamethrowers.
Kim’s sudden use of force may signal an internal power struggle – at the very least, it points to a heightened sense of paranoia and erraticism exhibited by the Great Leader.
“The chilling act suggests a young and suspicious leader purging the government of any challenge, real or imagined, to his authority,” said CSMonitor. [Will] the liquidation of the kind of experience that Jang brought to the regime will actually weaken Kim, who was educated in Switzerland and has a weak spot for Western culture?”
CSMonitor continued, “Kim may be trying to drive home the point – to both his domestic and international audiences – that he is the guy in charge, regional experts say. But they also wonder if Kim’s actions suggest he faces more challenges from North Korea’s two poles of power – the military and the Workers’ Party – than meet the eye.”
Beijing-based Koryo Tours, an operator that specializes in North Korea vacations, will be hosting a special package tour for the upcoming exhibition match in Pyongyang. The four-day trip will include the same flights and hotels as the yet-to-be-confirmed NBA stars playing in the game, while providing “unprecedented” access to North Korean players and officials.
For anyone bold – and wealthy – enough, the $9,000 trip can be booked through Koryo’s website.