Dennis Rodman Actually Did Meet With Kim Jong Un, And Then Everyone Got Drunk, Apparently. What Does It All Mean?

  • Glenn Davis

OK, so it seems that North Korea still hates America in the abstract, therefore making Dennis Rodman’s much-ballyhooed “basketball diplomacy” trip something less than a smashing success, international-relations-wise. But before you declare the trip an outright failure, know this: Rodman, by all accounts, actually met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Allow us to say it again: Dennis Rodman met with Kim Jong Un. The only thing that could make this weirder would be if they didn’t just pose for some photo, but actually hung out like a couple old pals:

Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang on Thursday, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

So they actually did hang out like old pals? The only thing that could make this any weirder is if Rodman declared the DPRK supreme leader a “friend for life” in front of thousands of people.

Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, “You have a friend for life,” Detrick said.

Wait, so Dennis Rodman chilled out with Kim Jong Un during a basketball game and called him a friend for life? The only thing that could make this any weirder would be if Kim Jong Un got a ton of liquor for the documentary crew Rodman traveled with to North Korea, and everyone got sloshed.

Hey, don’t laugh – this could be the most the North Korean ruling family has ever done to provide nourishment for people in their country. And here’s an odd detail on the contest Rodman and his friend for life watched:

The competition ended in a 110-110 draw, with 12 DPRK players and four players from the U.S. team Harlem Globetrotters divided into two teams.

A tie? Kim Jong Un didn’t run onto the court at the last second, steal the ball, literally sprout wings and fly to the other end of the court, and while mightily yelling “JUCHE!” throw down a game-winning dunk so majestic, it convinced LeBron once and for all to enter next year’s dunk contest? I’ll believe that report of a tie when North Korea’s state media confirms it, thank you very much.

But seriously: if this all went down remotely as reported (and given Kim Jong Un’s reported basketball – and especially Bulls – fandom, plus that picture of his brother wearing a Rodman Bulls jersey, it does seem possible), we’re conflicted. On the one hand, this story is too bizarre not to laugh at a little. It’s Dennis Rodman in North Korea.

On the other, laughing at it does feel, at least to us, a bit like trivializing the appalling conditions the ruling family has created and maintained throughout North Korea. Yeah, we’re talking about North Korea, but it’s more in the sense of “Boy, Dennis Rodman sure is bein’ wacky!” than “Boy, North Korea’s ruling class sure does suck!” Not to be the fun police – most of this very post was goofing around – but it wouldn’t hurt to take at least a little time out of imagining a documentary crew getting hammered on the North Korean ruler’s dime to think about, say, this.

The fact that Kim Jong Un seems a bit more open to other cultures than his father was is at least some sort of positive development, though. There’s at least one American he seems not to want to nuke off the face of the earth – maybe more will follow. Maybe this was just the breakthrough the country needed. Maybe Rodman’s trip will gradually herald a new era of North Korean openness, and functionality, in our increasingly globalized world! …Or maybe that’s just a fantasy so I can absolve myself of guilt for laughing at all this, and it actually means nothing going forward. Either way, interesting few days for U.S.-North Korean relations.