SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The last time Dennis Rodman visited North Korea, he delighted the country’s young ruler with a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” suffered an angry meltdown on CNN while defending his trip and spent time at a rehab facility after returning to the United States in rough shape.
He probably hopes things will go more smoothly on his latest visit to North Korea, which started Tuesday. The trip extends Rodman’s surprising relationship with 30-something North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took power in 2011 but has yet to meet a more high-profile foreigner than the heavily tattooed former NBA bad boy.
Critics slammed Rodman over his past trips, saying he allowed himself to be a public relations tool for North Korea. He’s likely to face similar accusations now: His visit comes amid international condemnation over North Korea’s accelerating efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, which poses one of the toughest foreign policy challenges for U.S. President Donald Trump.
A look at Rodman’s previous visits to North Korea:
FRIEND FOR LIFE
Rodman is a rare individual who could claim friendships with both Kim and Trump, whom he worked with as a cast member for two seasons on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He traveled to North Korea for the first time in February 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by VICE television. Since then, he has traveled to the country four times, according to his publicist.
During Rodman’s first trip, he and Kim, known to be a basketball enthusiast, sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang, and chatted as they watched players from North Korea and the United States play on mixed teams. Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, “You have a friend for life,” a VICE spokesman said then.
After the game, the VICE crew and the players were rushed across Pyongyang unexpectedly for a dinner with Kim and other members of North Korea’s government.
Rodman’s 2013 trip came just two weeks after North Korea conducted the first of three underground nuclear tests it has done under the rule of Kim, who is openly pursuing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Rodman also visited North Korea in January 2014, just weeks after Kim made a stunningly violent move to strengthen his grip on power — executing his uncle and onetime No. 2 Jang Song Thaek for alleged treason.
Rodman still went through with a plan to take a group of retired NBA players to North Korea for an exhibition game, which he called a “birthday present” for his “best friend” Kim. The event soon became overshadowed by politics after Rodman suffered an angry meltdown on CNN before the game when asked whether during the trip he would raise the issue of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who was detained in North Korea at the time on charges of “anti-state crimes.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think,” Rodman yelled in response to the CNN question. “One day this door is going to open because of these 10 guys here.”
At the start of the exhibition game, Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim, who was seated in the arena, and bowed deeply as the North Korean players clapped.
Former NBA player Charles Smith said at the time that he felt remorse for coming to Pyongyang with Rodman because the event was dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman’s own comments.
“Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us,” Smith told The Associated Press before the exhibition game. “Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later.”
Rodman later apologized for the comments he made on Bae, who was released in November that year.
After returning to the United States following the 2014 visit, Rodman spent three weeks at a New Jersey-based alcohol rehabilitation center, which he said was not about giving up drinking, but to “decompress from all things” he was going through.
“I was trying to get this game going and get everything going in North Korea,” Rodman told the AP then. “It was a lot.”
His agent, Darren Prince, said Rodman had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized the Pyongyang exhibition game.
“What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned,” Prince said at the time. “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him.”