Former NBA star Dennis Rodman says he is hoping a basketball game he is organising in North Korea could engage the American people and president Barack Obama.
“Sport is so important to people around the world so I hope this is going to engage the American people, especially Obama,” the eccentric former Chicago Bulls star said at Beijing airport on Thursday on his way to Pyongyang.
Rodman is organising an exhibition game between North Korea and a team of mainly ex-NBA players on January 8 to mark reclusive leader Kim Jong-Un’s birthday.
The young ruler, educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls, who Rodman helped to win three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
The Bulls give Kim and Obama one of the few things they can agree on.
Obama, a keen basketball player, is also known to be a die-hard fan of the Bulls who hail from the town where he forged his early political career.
The heavily tattooed Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the North Korean leader since making his first trip there in March, when he declared Kim a “friend for life”.
Earlier this month, Kim had uncle and former mentor Jang Song-Thaek executed in a surprise move, but Rodman distanced himself from political events in the country.
“I have got nothing to do with that,” he said.
The ex-NBA team is expected to be announced during Rodman’s visit – his third of the year.
Rodman brushed aside official warnings by the US government to its citizens not to travel to North Korea, saying “there is nothing I can do about that” and adding that “if something happens, it is beyond my control”.
Accompanying Rodman to Pyongyang were Irish bookmakers, trip sponsors and a television documentary crew.
Pyongyang is holding a US citizen, Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of trying to topple the North Korean regime, but US officials said they had not been in touch with Rodman over the visit.
Rodman is one of the few Westerners to have met Kim, who took over following the death of his father former supremo Kim Jong-Il.
On Tuesday, massed ranks of military and party leaders pledged loyalty to Kim on the second anniversary of his father’s death.