It seems as if Dennis Rodman has become our unofficial ambassador to the Hermit Kingdom. The former NBA star skipped off to North Korea today for the second time this year, according to the Associated Press. Three days ago, a visit by U.S. special envoy Robert King was canceled by the country's reclusive dictator. This makes it official: Dennis Rodman can go where the state department cannot.
Rodman first headed to North Korea on a "basketball diplomacy" mission documented by Vice and aired on HBO. A few weeks later, New Times wrote a cover story about his from transformation basketball's wild child to the U.S.'s wild card of foreign diplomacy, a move that left Rodman under a firestorm of criticism for claiming a dictator as a "friend." But now the 54-year-old baller has a chance to make right by saving a man's life.
Rumors are circulating that the sudden, unannounced trip is related to Kenneth Bae, an American missionary currently imprisoned in North Korea. King, the U.S. envoy, was headed to Pyongyang to request a pardon and amnesty for the man who has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor in a prison camp. Bae was charged with "hostile acts against the Republic." Basically, he said he ran a fake tourist company but was secretly harboring pictures of malnourished North Korean orphans. Since his arrest last year, he's suffered myriad health problems, losing about 50 pounds and a significant amount of his eyesight.
Originally, Rodman announced he would head to the DPRK in August, because President Barack Obama wasn't doing enough to ensure Bae's release.
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"I'm gonna try and get the guy out," Rodman told TMZ this past May. "It's gonna be difficult."
Now, though, he's signing a different tune. In the Beijing airport, Rodman told Reuters that he would only be talking basketball with his bro Jong-un during the five-day trip. Regardless, it seems like the humanitarian mission was just delayed a month, and negotiations for Bae's release are probably still on the table. At the very least, Rodman seems to be aware that rescuing Bae would do wonders for his PR.
"I will definitely ask for Kenneth Bae's release," Rodman mused on HuffPost Live less than a week ago. "If I actually got him loose -- and I'm just saying this out the blue -- I'd be the most powerful guy in the world."