Rodman brought a team of fellow former National Basketball
Association stars to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to mark
the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un with an exhibition game. The
birthday is believed to have been on Wednesday, though that has not
"It started out as surreal, then people joined in and it sort of
faded a bit, but it seemed pretty heartfelt from Rodman's side,"
said Simon Cockerell, a tour guide who watched the game in
Pyongyang, said of Rodman's birthday singing.
"It was unexpected, and probably unplanned," he said. "Kim Jong Un
appeared to smile, but he didn't appear to expect it."
Cockerell, whose company Koryo Tours took a group of tourists to the
game, said the audience had stood and cheered Kim for up to six
minutes when he appeared with his wife.
"Dennis Rodman gave a charmingly shambolic speech where he thanked
Kim Jong Un and his wife for showing up, along with the other
players for being brave enough to come with him and join in his
This was Rodman's fourth trip to Pyongyang. On previous visits, he
spent time dining as a guest of Kim, with whom he says he has a
genuine friendship, though he did not meet Kim on his third trip.
The visit come weeks after the execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song
Thaek, who until then was one of the most powerful figures. South
Korean President Park Geun-hye has described events in North Korea
as a "reign of terror.
Rodman has said he would not interfere in North Korea's politics but
he raised an outcry at home when, in a television interview on
Tuesday, he appeared to suggest that Korean-American missionary
Kenneth Bae was to blame for his captivity.
During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his trip, Rodman
seemed to say Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 and
convicted in May on charges of crimes against the state, was
responsible for his situation.
"If you understand what Kenneth Bae did ... Do you understand what
he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?"
Rodman said, declining to respond to questions to clarify what he
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said her family was "outraged" by his
comments and he could "do a lot of good" by using his access to the
North Korea leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than "hurl
outrageous accusations" at her brother.
"He is playing games with my brother's life," Chung said in a
statement. "There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's
"He is clearly uninformed about Kenneth's case, and he is certainly
not in any position to pass judgment," Chung said, adding that Bae
never had hostile intentions against the state.
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Asked about Rodman's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney told
reporters, "I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response,"
emphasizing that the trip was private travel that was not endorsed
by the U.S. government.
"I'm simply going to say that we remain gravely concerned about
Kenneth Bae's health, and continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant
his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds," Carney
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for state
subversion in North Korea. He was detained in 2012 as he led a tour
group through the northern region of the country. The country's
Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed
at overthrowing the government.
Following a visit to her son in October, Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae,
said her son was "alone and ailing."
A devout Christian, Bae has acknowledged he conducted religious
services in North Korea, which has long been hostile to Westerners
advocating religious causes.
U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Rodman and the other Americans
for what he called an "ill-advised" trip.
"As North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continues to starve and
oppress his citizens, it is unthinkable that a few fading
celebrities would use such an opportunity to reward his brutal
regime," he said.
Rodman has faced both ridicule and harsh criticism for his trips to
North Korea, which some U.S. politicians and activists view as
serving only as fodder for North Korean propaganda.
But he defended his visit, saying it would help "open the door" and
was a "great idea for the world."
"It's amazing how we thrive on negativity. Does anyone know this
guy's only 31 years old?" he said of Kim, whom he calls his friend.
"Dennis, he could be 31, he could be 51," said CNN interviewer Chris
Cuomo. "He's just killed his uncle. He's holding an American
(Reporting by James Pearson in Seoul, Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton
and Peter Cooney in Washington, David Stanway in Beijing, and Eric
M. Johnson in Seattle; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in
Washington; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Steve Orlofsky, Dan
Grebler, Leslie Adler and Elizabeth Piper)
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