Rodman Recap: You Can’t Top This
As Dennis Rodman reportedly helicopters off to hit the slopes at Masik Pass, we feel obliged to recap the theatre of the absurd in Pyongyang.
Rodman, despite being Paddy Power-less, managed to cobble together a team of ex-NBA players including Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker, Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith for an exhibition game/birthday present to the Dear Leader. We joked in a previous post that the players Rodman wrangled would live to regret their decision, and sadly we were right; the body language and facial expressions on the players around him during the interview-turned-rant with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday are painful to watch.
The nadir of the entire episode was Rodman’s implication that Kenneth Bae was imprisoned with just cause. Under North Korean law that is no doubt correct. The problem is that North Korea doesn't have any "law" in the sense that we would understand it, and Bae's incarceration is a perfect example of that fact. Rodman later apologized for his remarks to Cuomo Thursday, citing the stress that his dream of “basketball diplomacy was falling apart” (and alcohol) were key factors.
And then there was the game. Prior to the matchup, Rodman gave his rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong Un before a crowd of 14,000 North Koreans; talk about painful to watch. The exhibition itself took place as two games, of which Rodman played for about 15 minutes and then retired to sit next to Kim to catch up with his friend for life.
In an alternate universe, Rodman might have pulled off this bit of sports diplomacy; we are not opposed to exchanges that provide contact and remind North Koreans of people-to-people good will. The challenge is dealing with a regime with an extraordinarily refined propaganda apparatus capable of converting nearly any encounter to domestic political advantage. In this case, the image was the fawning and obsequious foreigner paying tribute to the Young General. If you are going to be a court jester, at least speak truth to power.