Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters landed in Pyongyang, North Korea Tuesday to facilitate "basketball diplomacy" within the isolated country. The players will also be filming part of a documentary and attempting to meet with dictator Kim Jong-un, who is said to be an avid basketball fan.
Dennis Rodman and Harlem Globetrotters team members Anthony Blakes or Buckets, Alex Weekes, who goes by Moose, and Will Bullard, or Bull, will compete against North Korean players in exhibitions. Vice Media, the company sponsoring and shooting the documentary, also sent Ryan Duffy, their correspondent, to round out the 5-man team. The players are hoping to entertain and bring goodwill to the oppressed police state.
"We got invited and we just came over to have some fun," Rodman said to the state-provided journalists once he landed at Pyongyang's airport. "Hopefully, everything will be O.K. and the kids will have a good time with the games."
The orchestrator of the trip is Vice Media founder Shane Smith, who coordinated his company's efforts with DPRK representatives and other sources instead of the U.S. State Department. The players' foray into the repressive nation is proof that Kim Jong-il's admiration of basketball- a ball signed by Michael Jordan was given to the leader in 2000, and now sits in the country's national museum- lives on through his son, Kim Jong-un.
"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes," Smith told the Associated Press. "But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing."
Kim Jong-il was apparently fascinated with the 1990s Chicago Bulls and their dominance of the NBA. Although Michael Jordan was not willing to visit North Korea, Rodman was "up for anything and everything," Smith said.
Even Rodman, who is known in the past for his wacky antics, toned down his appearance for the strictly government-regulated dictatorship. He showed up in sweatsuit, but did not remove his array of facial piercings. The Harlem Globetrotters, too, attempted to make a good impression.
"I've always loved Korea- North, South, doesn't matter," Bullard told DPRK reporters. "I've always loved Korea personally. We all do. We love every place that we go. They all accept us for who we are. We're role models. … It's all family fun."
"I'm not a politician," Rodman later tweeted. "Kim Jung Un & North Korean people are basketball fans. I love everyone. Period. End of story."
The visit comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and the DPRK have soured in lieu of their nuclear missile testing. Despite tightening sanctions and tensions, Smith still feels the visit can't hurt diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S.
"I look at this as basketball diplomacy, the same way we had Ping-Pong diplomacy with China," Smith, who will host the documentary, told The New York Times. "Once you get the Globetrotters involved, I mean, how can you not smile when you see the Harlem Globetrotters?"