Richardson: Rodman Turned Basketball Diplomacy into 'Disaster'

Wednesday, 08 Jan 2014 10:28 AM

By Wanda Carruthers

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Basketball diplomacy was originally of benefit to former NBA star Dennis Rodman and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, but it's now become a "disaster," former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said Wednesday.

"Obviously, both Rodman and Kim Jong Un are benefiting from this trip. Rodman, with the enormous publicity of his basketball diplomacy, which has now, I think, become a disaster," Richardson, also former governor of New Mexico and former Secretary of Energy, told CNN's "New Day."

The game, billed as a gift to Kim for his 31st birthday, was intended to enable North Korea's new leader to show his country he was "in control" and "confident," Richardson said.

On Tuesday, Rodman gave a rambling interview to CNN in which he defended his trip to North Korea. During the expletive-laced interview, Rodman was flanked by some of the former NBA players who had accompanied him to play the exhibition game.

Richardson said efforts like basketball diplomacy and other non-traditional types of diplomacy can be beneficial between countries. He maintained the effort has now been compromised.

"Basketball diplomacy, out-of-the-box diplomacy, special envoys, non-traditional diplomats can do a lot of good. But, now, because of Rodman's comments, even some NBA players that probably were there seriously for just basketball diplomacy, have been compromised," Richardson said.

Of particular consternation to Rodman during Tuesday's interview was the subject of the imprisonment of American Kenneth Bae in North Korea. Richardson said he had worked to get Bae released, but his efforts had been rebuffed.

Richardson explained a problem for the U.S. in its dealing with North Korea was that very little was known about the country's new leader. He said North Korea's isolationist stance made it so that "nobody seems to have access, except, perhaps, Dennis Rodman."

Kim "seems a bit insecure," Richardson said, as evidenced by the North Korean head replacing military leaders, recently ordering the execution of his uncle, and shows of military force. He indicated Kim was "having internal problems, obviously."

"The problem is that this new North Korean leader, we don't know where he's coming from. He's very hostile to the United States. He has refused entreaties from the United States State Department," Richardson said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern told CNN he thought the players who accompanied Rodman on the trip were "blinded by the payday."

"For what I would guess is a relatively large sum of money, they have agreed to go and give a birthday present to the leader," Stern said.

Former NBA player Greg Anthony told CNN Wednesday he thought basketball played an important diplomatic role to "bridge gaps." He said it could have been a "stepping stone" to diplomacy, but Rodman's words had hindered that process.

"This opportunity, to a certain degree, was lost because of the antics of Dennis Rodman," Anthony said.

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