PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) Dennis Rodman may not get to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his latest visit to the country, but he said that won't stop him from coming back on Kim's birthday next month to hold an exhibition game with other former basketball stars.
On the night before he was due to leave Pyongyang, Rodman told The Associated Press on Sunday that he had not yet had a meeting with Kim. The flamboyant Hall of Famer said that he didn't expect to meet the leader every time he comes to North Korea, and that his current trip was for training North Korean basketball players who will take part in the match Rodman is organizing for Kim's birthday on Jan. 8.
"I'm not just coming over here to meet the leader," Rodman said. "I came over here to meet the basketball team, to prepare a great game for the leader for his birthday. And people need to understand that it's not important for me to meet him every time I come over because he has another greater job to do for his country, and I respect that, but this trip was basically to come over to train the team, so we can have a great, great, game."
Rodman's visit comes just after the dramatic purge and execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle, which has sparked speculation among some foreign analysts over how stable Kim's regime is. But officials here say that there is no instability and that Kim remains firmly in control.
Rodman wants to bring 12 former NBA stars to Pyongyang for the exhibition, but has acknowledged that some of the Americans have been reluctant to come. He has held tryouts for the North Korean team during his visit, which began Thursday. He has said he expects to announce the U.S. roster soon, and that he is planning another game in June.
Rodman and Kim have struck up an unlikely friendship since the former NBA star traveled to the secretive state for the first time in February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television. Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from his father in late 2011.
Rodman has avoided politics in his dealings with the North and has steered clear of commenting on the country's human rights record or its continued detainment of American Kenneth Bae for allegedly committing anti-state crimes.
"A lot of people in America don't approve of what I've been doing, but that's not my problem," he said. "You know, a lot of people want me to come over here and do some special things, but that's not my problem, I can't deal with that, I'm not, I'm not an ambassador."
To keep next month's game friendly, Rodman said the former NBA players would take on the North Koreans in the first half, but that the teams would be mixed for the second half.