Dennis Rodman in North Korea: What could possibly go wrong?

Dennis Rodman is surrounded by journalists upon his arrival at Pyongyang Airport in North Korea on Tuesday.
(Kim Kwang Hyon / Associated Press)

So things have been a little testy between the U.S. and North Korea lately? No need to worry -- Dennis Rodman is over there right now. This whole nuclear-test situation is probably being smoothed over as we speak.

That’s right. The controversial former NBA star known as “The Worm” and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday to take part in what event organizers are calling a bit of “basketball diplomacy.”

Actually, it’s just a basketball camp for kids and games with North Korea’s top basketball stars in a project for a VICE media news show that will air on HBO later this year. But VICE founder Shane Smith hopes it will end up being something more than that in this time of high tension between the two countries.


“Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes,” Smith said. “But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.”

Globetrotters veteran Buckets Blakes echoed the sentiment. “We use the basketball as a tool to build cultural ties, build bridges among countries. We’re all about happiness and joy and making people smile.”

Still, Rodman -- with his tattoos, jewelry and outrageous fashion sense -- may seem like an odd choice to do that in a country that is known for its strict dress code. One North Korean looked at a photo of the Hall of Famer and declared, “He looks like a monster!”

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is known to be a fan of the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and Rodman won three of his five NBA championships with that team. And Rodman appears to have toned it down a bit, at least at the beginning of the trip.

The 51-year-old was soft-spoken Tuesday, wearing blue sweatpants and a Polo Ralph Lauren cap (albeit with white-rimmed sunglasses and studs in his nose and upper lip), when he told reorters he wasn’t there to stir up trouble.

“It’s my first time, I think it’s most of these guys’ first time here, so hopefully everything’s going to be OK,” Rodman said. “And hoping the kids have a good time for the game.”


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.