Skip to main content

Dennis Rodman returns after visit to North Korea

By Jethro Mullen and Yuli Yang, CNN
January 14, 2014 -- Updated 0347 GMT (1147 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Ex-NBA player Kenny Anderson say he got "a few thousand dollars" for the trip
  • "We could have probably done a little more homework," teammate Cliff Robinson says
  • "I'm sorry for what's going on in North Korea," Rodman tells CNN
  • He stirred controversy last week by singing "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Beijing (CNN) -- Dennis Rodman is apologizing. Again.

Last week, he said he was sorry about his bizarre, drunken outburst on CNN about an American citizen held prisoner in North Korea.

Now, Rodman says he's sorry about what's going on inside North Korea, a nation renowned for its human rights abuses.

But the eccentric former NBA star known as "The Worm" isn't contrite about his latest puzzling visit to the secretive state.

He said he did nothing wrong by organizing a basketball game last week at a packed stadium in Pyongyang, an event at which he sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I'm sorry for what's going on in North Korea, the certain situations," Rodman told CNN on Monday after arriving at Beijing International Airport from Pyongyang.

Humble Dennis Rodman: I'm sorry
Fmr. Gov. Richardson on Rodman
Charles Smith: 'No Regrets' on N. Korea
NBA star: I was paid to go to N. Korea

He didn't say exactly what those "situations" are. He may have been referring to the reports of horrific human rights abuses by his friend Kim's regime, or to the estimated 200,000 people kept in political prison camps.

Or maybe he was talking about Kenneth Bae, the U.S. citizen sentenced last year to 15 years of hard labor by North Korea on accusations that he planned to bring down the government through religious activities.

He was certainly less boisterous than when he spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo last week. In that interview, he appeared to suggest that Bae may have done something to deserve his heavy sentence.

After his on-air rant drew criticism from Bae's family and others, Rodman apologized, saying he'd been drinking and was under stress.

In Beijing on Monday, returning from a week-long visit to North Korea, he struck a more humble tone.

"I'm not God, I'm not (an) ambassador, I'm no one," he said. "I just want to show the world the fact that we can actually get along in sport. That is it!"

Rodman later flew back to the United States, landing at Newark, New Jersey, Monday evening. He left the airport there without talking to reporters.

'I love America'

Rodman has described Kim, whose once-powerful uncle was recently purged and executed, as a friend and a "very good guy."

He said he was happy that by playing basketball with and in front of North Koreans -- an approach dubbed "basketball diplomacy" -- he and the other former NBA players who accompanied him had tried to "do something good for the world."

But Rodman said he was sad that "everyone is trying to break this down, to push it on me."

"I don't know why," he said. "I haven't done anything wrong. Nothing wrong!"

Some observers have said Rodman's "basketball diplomacy" may have positive effects in North Korea by offering the people there a different view of the West, compared with its demonic portrayal in the country's tightly controlled state media.

But others, including human rights activists, say it's an embarrassing media sideshow that distracts attention from the North Korean regime's brutality.

Rodman rejected suggestions that he had betrayed his country by befriending Kim, a dictator whose regime's rhetoric describes the United States as a mortal enemy.

"I love America. I love my country." he said. "I'd never damage my country."

Caught in the middle

Retired NBA player Cliff Robinson, who went on the trip, said Monday on CNN's "New Day" that he was surprised by the backlash the trip generated back home and was unaware the game would coincide with Kim's birthday. But he was apprehensive about criticizing Rodman.

"Dennis is a great guy. Dennis is going to be Dennis," he said. "I don't want to sit here and ever put someone that I've supported and throw them under the bus. We're grown men."

Robinson said he and the other players "could have probably done a little more homework as to what was going on, or ask Dennis questions."

Another member of Rodman's team, Kenny Anderson, agreed.

"I didn't do my due diligence," Anderson told CNN's "Piers Morgan Live," saying he didn't know anything about the political situation in North Korea.

Anderson, a star player for the New Jersey Nets in the 1990s, said he now felt "very bad" about the North Korea trip. He said his children got "approached" at school about his participation in the visit.

The money question

Last week, NBA Commissioner David Stern said the former NBA players were "blinded by the payday," but the players have been adamant that North Korea did not pay them.

"Absolutely not. I think I am astute enough to understand the dynamics, especially collecting monetary dollars from North Korea. No, we did not get paid from North Korea at all," Rodman teammate Charles Smith told CNN in a lengthy exclusive interview on "New Day Sunday."

Smith, who retired from the NBA in 1997 after nine seasons, said an Irish online betting company and a documentary film crew paid expenses for the ex-players turned hoops ambassadors.

Last month, the Irish company Paddy Power said it had removed its name from Rodman's project after the execution of Kim's uncle and top aide, Jang Song Thaek. But it said it would honor its "contractual commitments" to the team.

Anderson said different players were paid different amounts for their participation. He said he received "a few thousand dollars" but less than $10,000.

Pressed by Morgan, he said he would give "a portion" of his fee to charity. But he refused to commit to give it all away.

Rodman under pressure

Speaking by satellite from Beijing at the weekend, Smith said it wasn't about the money. He saw it as an opportunity to go to a reclusive country and exchange cultural information with other athletes and citizens. But he didn't see it as a birthday present for Kim.

"That's the date that was set. I didn't know it was his birthday," he said in the half-hour interview. "And it didn't matter to me once I found out that it was his birthday."

Smith said he felt for Rodman, who asked for his help organizing the trip and who really seemed to want to pull off a big event.

"I saw the pressure mount. I saw him change, and it was very difficult keeping him and everyone together" once the controversy over traveling to North Korea began, he said.

Smith said that advocating for Bae's release wasn't on their agenda.

"We didn't go there for that. We went there to do what we normally do, and that's to be cross-cultural ambassadors and use the game of basketball as a bridge for exchange," he said.

CNN's Yuli Yang reported from Beijing, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system," the country declares.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions Monday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
The crowd cheers as the stars make their way to the ring for first pro-wrestling bout North Korea has seen in almost 20 years.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0137 GMT (0937 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley makes a rare live report from reclusive North Korea.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley is given a rare look inside North Korea and tours Kim Jong Un's pet project, a waterpark.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
North Korea rejected an invitation to the Pope's Mass in Seoul. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 2338 GMT (0738 HKT)
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
ADVERTISEMENT