I started following basketball just as the Chicago Bulls were starting phase two of their eight-year dynasty. That team was fun to watch. If Michael Jordan wasn’t enough for you (career highlights), every game could be one when enforcer Dennis Rodman lost his mind. Like on January 15, 1997, when he kicked cameraman Eugene Amos in the groin after tripping over him.
Rodman was undersized at his position, yet is one of the greatest rebounders of all time due to perpetual aggression and determination. He has to be one of the five most intimidating basketball players of all time; definitely one of the five most unique.
In 2013 Rodman made his first, second, and third trips to North Korea. Dubbed the Hermit Kingdom, it is a country of total dictatorship, where failure to worship the “Supreme Leader” results in the death or imprisonment of not just you but your extended family.
The dictator’s face is everywhere. The documentary Inside Undercover In North Korea (here) takes you through the ten-day journey of a doctor traveling through North Korea to treat blind patients. At one point the crew was granted camera access inside a typical North Korean home. Family pictures were non-existent, but in seemingly every room there was a picture of Kim Jong-un. You watch them bow down, but their passion while doing so conveys how commonplace and ritualistic it is throughout the country.
I imagine telling a North Korean they’re brainwashed would be the same reaction of a North Korean trying to genuinely convince me the Earth is flat. In their heads, they are infinitely lucky to be a part of the greatest country in the universe. “Juche” is a well-known slogan of unification in North Korea. To the outside world, that translates to “Up yours.”
Kim Jong-un’s hatred toward America is well known. He has recently threatened America with nuclear weapons and still blames America for the separation of Korea over a half-century ago. Anti-American nursery rhymes are taught to kids the way we may teach Ring Around the Rosy to ours (technically, we are still in the Korean War. North Korea never signed papers to formally end it, so legally we are in a half-century cease fire).
But Kim Jong-un is an admitted fan of the 1990s Bulls franchise, enough to break the ice with a high-profile American for the first time. He could have picked anyone else. Something drew him to Dennis Rodman. Remember when he wore a dress to promote his autobiography?
But it may be a perfect wedding. Both seem to live in their respective internal realities, and maybe this is the first time both Rodman and Kim Jong-un have found someone else that “gets it.” Rodman seems to have little genuine desire to talk politics, and maybe that’s a breath of fresh air for the Supreme Leader of Earth’s most mysterious country.
Maybe Rodman is so unique he is the only person in the world Kim Jong-un has ever connected with. Rodman doesn’t give in to national pressure to question the dictator’s politics (CNN outburst here), and if Rodman wants to take it slow and develop a true friendship then why not? “Finally, someone isn’t trying to criticize me or my country,” and Rodman is so different I truly believe he’s being genuine. Where maybe no one has understood Kim Jong-un his whole life, maybe this is an opportunity for the dictator to make his first “true friend.”
What if this works? What if Kim Jong is so flattered by Rodman he finagles a United States interaction with North Korea. What if Rodman’s friendship leads to communication. What if Rodman’s friendship keeps Kim Jong from pulling the trigger on a nuclear weapon on the United States.
Kim Jong-un hand selected Rodman. Either way you look at it, the bottom line is a friendship is forming. Rodman’s “Up yours” attitude toward his sea of American critics will fuel his fire to befriend the dictator. All stars may have aligned.
I can see it now. “Class, please turn to page 167. Here we will see how 200 years ago Dennis Rodman initiated peace between America and North Korea.”