Hall of Fame basketball player Dennis Rodman is due to make a return trip to North Korea this week despite recent political upheaval in that country that culminated in the execution of ruler Kim Jong Un's uncle for alleged treason.
A spokesman for Irish online betting website Paddy Power, the trip's sponsor, told the New York Times Tuesday that Rodman was due to arrive in Beijing later in the day before traveling to North Korea on Thursday with a documentary film crew in tow. The spokesman told the Times that Rodman was due to stay in North Korea until next Monday.
This would be Rodman's third visit to North Korea this year. It was not immediately clear whether Rodman would meet Kim Jong Un on this trip, as he has on the prior two occasions. Kim is believed to have become a fan of the NBA while at boarding school in Switzerland, and is believed to be a particular fan of the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three straight NBA championships between 1996 and 1998.
Rodman has said in the past that he would like to train the North Korean national basketball team and has also spoken of bringing former NBA players to the isolated country to play a series of exhibitions early next year. Rodman has referred to the North Korean dictator as his "friend for life," and suggested that President Obama and Kim Jong Un could bond over their shared love of basketball.
Rodman's latest trip was scheduled before last Friday's execution of Jang Song Thaek, believed to be the second-most powerful man in North Korea after Kim himself, for a laundry list of alleged offenses, including treason, gambling, womanizing, and drug abuse.
The State Department has long advised Americans not to travel to North Korea, a warning that was restated earlier this month after 85-year-old Merrill Newman, a Korean War veteran who had traveled to the North as a tourist, was released by Pyongyang after being detained for more than a month and forced to read a "confession" of alleged crimes he committed during the 1950-53 conflict.
Likewise, Kenneth Bae, an American missionary convicted of hostile acts against North Korea due to his surreptitious work there, is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor, despite calls from the State Department and Bae's family for his release.