Now that the hoopla has begun to die down over Kim Jong-un’s execution of his uncle—reportedly Mafia-style with machine guns—the Young General is anticipating his athletes shooting a few hoops under the expert tutoring of Dennis Rodman. Kim Jong-un’s best American buddy has just arrived back in North Korea for his third visit of the year. The North Korean athletes—no pressure here!—are in training for an exhibition game which Rodman is organizing with American professional basketball players, scheduled to be held in Pyongyang on January 8—not by coincidence Kim Jong-un’s 31st birthday.
Rodman is anything but modest about his role in this upcoming event. He told the Associated Press in a telephone interview, “I’m going to bring American players over there. Yes, I am. I’m going to be the most famous person in the world when you see American people holding hands and hoping the doors can be opened.” The self-proclaimed “bad boy” with the dyed green hair seems a perfect counterpart for Kim Jong-un. After all, every circus needs a clown. And Rodman is the most noteworthy American to meet personally with the Young General since his assumption of power two years ago. Rodman revealed after the conclusion of his second trip in September that he was even allowed to hold Kim Jong-un’s baby daughter, Ju-ae. It is a rare honor and sign of trust to allow a foreigner to hold the embodiment of the fourth generation of the “Baekdu bloodline” of direct descent from North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung. Rodman, by the way, described the man who murdered his uncle as “a good dad.”
Kim Jong-un also benefits from this Odd Couple relationship. Dennis Rodman’s visits and memorable, if rather bizarre, quotes generate the kind of international media frenzy that Pyongyang’s young ruler seems to crave—without having to resort to missile launches or threats of nuclear annihilation. This theater of the absurd also belies the misguided enthusiasm about the possibility of an “enlightened” new leader that was generated when Kim Jong-un came to power following his father's sudden death in December 2011. Kim, it was said, had studied in Switzerland, liked European rock music, and was a basketball fan—especially of the fabled Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. When Michael Jordan reportedly had the good sense to pass on the opportunity to join the Harlem Globetrotters in their Pyongyang visit last February, fellow Bulls alumnus Dennis Rodman signed up and became the poster boy for "basketball diplomacy."
The New York Post carried a story indicating that Rodman, at the end of his first sortie into North Korea, went completely gaga over his “friend for life.” The paper reported last March 5 that he was "escorted out of the Time Hotel in Midtown on Sunday after spending hours at the restaurant bar loudly telling anyone who would listen about the North Korean dictator. ‘He kept saying what a nice guy Kim is, and how Kim just wants to talk to President Obama about basketball. He was waving around a signed copy of the dictator’s huge manifesto, telling everyone they should read it.’” No Red Guard, waving Chairman Mao's little red book during the frenzied height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, could have done a better job.
Under the absurd surface of this Through the Looking-Glass world, one can glean some important insights about the Kim family’s North Korea. First there is the utter hypocrisy concerning the charges of womanizing, boozing, conspicuous consumption, and corruption leveled against Kim Jong-un’s “scum of the earth” late uncle. After his second visit to North Korea in September, Rodman described in detail his seven-day visit to Kim Jong-un’s pleasure island to the tabloid The Sun. Rodman depicted a world worthy of Marie Antoinette with constant cocktails, jet skis, horseback riding and luxury yachts. "It's like going to Hawaii or Ibiza, but he's the only one that lives there," Rodman said. Then there is the reported ready availability of attractive women—the Kim regime apparently maintains special troupes of “entertainers” for just such purposes. It is unlikely that poor old Uncle Jang, no matter to what degree he was guilty of boozing and womanizing, ever spent a week like the one which Dennis Rodman described.