Dennis Rodman has been gung-ho about his latest trip to North Korea, a matchup between former NBA players and DPRK all-stars as a "birthday present" for Kim Jong-un. He might be the only one. The Associated Press reports that a number of the players on the trip are expressing second thoughts about going through with the game, after mounting criticism of their useful idiot captain.
The team, led by Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker, and Kenny Anderson, touched down in Pyongyang yesterday. Since then, Rodman hasn't shut his mouth. He said Kim is his "friend for life," and is "trying to change this country in a great way." Rodman had a bizarre interview on CNN this morning, ranting incoherently about political prisoners, his best buddy Kim, and god knows what else. It feel upon poor Charles Smith to cut him off and explain that this trip isn't supposed to be about politics.
Poor Charles Smith, who's forced into the role of the voice of reason. Though the AP story claims that "many" players privately expressed remorse about the trip, Smith is the only one who's gone on the record to say this might not have been the best idea—or at least that Rodman might not be the best man for the job.
"The way some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts," Smith said. "Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on - he gets emotional and he says things that he'll apologize for later.
"I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it's a lot bigger than us. We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are. We can't do anything about that, if we could we would. We're not skilled in those particular areas. Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas."
Smith seems to have the best grasp of what this trip was supposed to be. "Cultural exchange is about sharing," he said before leaving the U.S. "Sharing ideas and thoughts on education, culture and life." Basketball diplomacy should be a good thing. Like the table tennis exchanges with China in the 1970s or the New York Philharmonic's 2008 visit to Pyongyang, finding common ground in the arts or sports is a way to humanize each other. It's noncontroversial as long as it's apolitical, and that's where Rodman has gone wrong. Outright praising the Kim regime, insinuating that imprisoned American Kenneth Bae is locked up for a good reason, these are the sorts of things that torpedo a goodwill mission before any goodwill is accrued.
So, maybe Rodman and Kim are besties. Next time let's just send Charles Smith instead. He seems to be the only one who isn't psychotic.