So how exactly did retired basketball hall of famer and eccentric superstar Dennis Rodman find himself cozying up with the likes of an Asian dictator named Kim Jong-Un? The answer lies somewhere between a budding media news organization and a love for the sport of basketball that transcends any political fray one could conceive.
When VICE started out as a print magazine back in 1994, one could hardly fathom that they would birth one of the strangest international events in recent history, let alone break down diplomatic barriers once thought impossible. Branching out from their humble beginnings, the Brooklyn-based media company, VICE, began producing online videos, infusing a healthy blend of adventure and journalism to entice readership. Today, VICE boasts almost 4 million active Youtube subscribers, averaging several hundred thousand views per video. Launching their TV series on HBO, VICE has changed the name of the game in regard to online media.
So where do Dennis Rodman, the Harlem Globetrotters, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un come into this picture? It started 2 years ago, when VICE threw themselves into the wild in one of their most thought-provoking pieces to date.
VICE founder Shane Smith found himself neck-deep in the “Hermit Kingdom” when he and a team of journalists were granted access to tour the country back in 2011. Upon arriving, Shane Smith found what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated tour provided for them by the North Korean government. With strict direction, they were only allowed out at certain times in the day to particular tourist attractions, never allowing them to break routine. The official tour guide, translator, and entourage of security police that escorted the team from palace to library was unnerving and quite frustrating. After a short time in North Korea, Shane Smith and his team found themselves at odds with reporting the real story behind North Korea, when North Korea refused to show them anything further than the manipulated attractions and sites.
Diving further into the seedy underbelly of North Korea, the team discovered North Korean secret labor camps in Russia’s desolate Siberian region. Exposing the informal North Korean slave labor trade to the Russian government for much-needed currency, VICE made a name for themselves as a fearless news agency with a tenacity unseen in much of cable media.
Needless to say, Shane Smith was banned from ever returning to North Korea.
But, this is where an odd little fact of the Kim family dynasty came into play for the team at VICE. Oddly enough, Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s revered leader from 1994 until his death in 2011, was a huge basketball fan. He apparently loved the sport so much, North Korea even has their own official basketball “Dream Team.”
This love of basketball carried over to his son, Kim Jong-Un, current leader of the “Hermit Kingdom.” This odd hobby proved to be the connection VICE needed to get back into the country, in the form of superstar Dennis Rodman, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
After countless hours on the phone, communicating through various mediums and muddying through messy bureaucratic red tape, the news came that North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un was willing to meet with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters– so long as Shane Smith didn’t join them.
So a team consisting of VICE correspondents, Ryan Duffy, Dennis Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters, Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard, were sent to North Korea to play a game of hoops against North Korea’s “Dream Team.”
The “basketball diplomacy” mission, as it was dubbed, came with much criticism. Observers noted that whether or not VICE knew it, Dennis Rodman became an acting diplomat on behalf of the United States. To most North Koreans who have never seen an America in real life, the site of the tatted up, pierced fashionista must have been a culture shock and then some.
According to VICE reports following the first interaction, the team was invited to a reception at the Supreme Leader’s house, and Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-Un hit it off so well, he was invited back. The invitation was well received, and this is how Dennis Rodman ended up in North Korea on Kim Jong-Un’s birthday.
Still, Dennis Rodman’s arrival and befriending of the vicious tyrant could bode well for future relations between the two nations. As with any such issue, interaction and familiarization between the parties can lend to a “de-thawing.” By meeting a “real life” American superstar like Dennis Rodman and becoming so close to him, Kim Jong-Un may be able to find some humanity in North Korea’s vowed nemesis from the west.
In the end, American basketball superstar Dennis Rodman befriending tyrannical North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un is not the weirdest thing that could have happened. But, a North Korean dictator cozying up to an American? Well, that’s just plain strange.
By John Amaruso