Go to contents


North Korea`s basketball diplomacy?

Posted February. 28, 2013 04:59,   


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was known to be a devoted basketball fan by his former classmates in Switzerland in the late 1990s. According to his friends, Kim used to wear sweatpants and Nike trainers and spent hours drawing his hoops hero Michael Jordan. Kim`s residence was also filled with basketball equipment and gear.

His former friends remembered him as a boy proud of a photo of himself taken with NBA star Kobe Bryant, but who also turned aggressive on the court because winning was his only goal. Kenji Fujimoto, a former chef of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, said, “Unlike his older brother Jong Chul, (Jong Un) never failed to evaluate his play after each game. He told himself which play was good or bad and encouraged himself.” One of his friend remembered Kim Jong Un as “very explosive, and for whom winning was very important.”

In the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls appealed to Kim Jong Un`s taste for strength. The team won six NBA championships over 10 years (1991-93 and 1996-98) and could be likened to South Korea’s baseball team Haitai Tigers (now the Kia Tigers), who won eight Korean Series between 1986 and 1997.

Though Jordan was always selected as MVP, people say that without rebound king Dennis Rodman, who joined the Bulls in 1995, the Bulls` three consecutive titles from 1996 to 1998 would have been impossible. Compared to China’s former center Yao Ming (7-feet-5), Rodman (6-feet-8) was not a tall player but his competitive spirit had him lead the NBA in rebounding for seven years in a row. He earned the nickname "Worm" for his incoherent tussles. Kim Jong Un used to wear a T-shirt with Rodman’s number 91, and might have liked the forward’s incoherent play.

After conducting North Korea`s third nuclear test and more long-range missile launches, Kim Jong Un allowed Rodman and his staff to visit Pyongyang. The crew will hold a basketball camp for children and play a friendly game with a North Korean team. This visit came a month after Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited the Stalinist country to see its IT sites.

Rodman’s visit to North Korea is considered a form of sports diplomacy, but is a far cry from that of American table tennis players to China, which paved the way for Sino-U.S. reconciliation under the Nixon administration. Even if holding dialogue with Kim Jong Un is agreed after Rodman’s visit, the trip should not be interpreted in a diplomatic context as Rodman wishes. By saying he might be able to meet the rapper Psy in Pyongyang, the former NBA great cannot even distinguish South Korea from North Korea. Kim Jong Un watched a performance in which Mickey Mouse appeared. Rodman’s visit to the North is nothing more than the leisure activity of a young dictator.

Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (triplets@donga.com)