Sports as diplomacy can work, but there was a key difference between what, for example, the American Table Tennis team did in China in 1971 (giving us Ping Pong diplomacy) and what Dennis Rodman did with his game in North Korea — the Americans in China didn’t embrace Mao the dictator, that was about connecting with the common people of that nation. Rodman is all in with his “lifelong friend” Kim Jong-un. That changes the dynamic.
Rodman’s trip to North Korea created quite a controversy. Former Trail Blazer Cliff Robinson said he went over there with the intention of just meeting and connecting with the people, not the political side of Rodman’s trip to North Korea, he told Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com. He said most of the team was unaware it was the leader’s birthday and the game a celebration of that, they were just there to just play basketball.
“If we had more facts of this that and the other to make a better decision things might have been different, we might not have gone,” Robinson admitted, but added he thought they did connect with the common people, that just got overshadowed.
Robinson said they met Kim Jong-un very briefly and shook his hand, but most of their time was spent with the people helping show them around the country and with the North Korean basketball players.
Robinson said he feels they accomplished the goal of just reaching more common people.
Of the fateful, drunken CNN interview when Rodman had his outburst, Robinson said they all spoke before hand and were going to avoid discussing the political, to keep this about basketball and just meeting the people of North Korea, but Rodman got worked up and went off the script. Robinson said it made him uncomfortable.