Ex-NBA star Rodman wraps up ‘very good trip’ to North Korea, is cryptic on Kim meeting

Kyodo, AP, AFP-JIJI

Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman concluded his five-day trip to North Korea on Saturday, saying it was “very good” but not disclosing if he and leader Kim Jong Un had met in person this time.

“It’s a good trip, a very good trip,” Rodman told a horde of journalists upon his arrival at Beijing’s international airport from Pyongyang, without elaborating on what was good about it.

Despite being repeatedly asked whether he had a meeting with Kim, Rodman only said: “That’s a good question. … You will find out.”

Rodman was in North Korea from Tuesday, with the hope of trying to “open the door” at a time when tensions remain high over the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. officials said Rodman traveled to North Korea as a private citizen and did not represent Washington.

Still, Rodman is in a unique position as the highest-profile figure from the United States to have built personal relationships with both Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Asked before leaving for Pyongyang if he had spoken to Trump in advance of his trip, Rodman told reporters in Beijing, “I’m sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”

On his way to the airport, Rodman vowed to return and said his “thoughts and prayers” are with the family of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was arrested and imprisoned in the North for 17 months, then released just hours before Rodman’s arrival.

Warmbier suffered severe brain damage while in custody. Doctors in Ohio described him as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” but declined to discuss his outlook for improvement, saying such information would be kept confidential.

U.S. and North Korean officials said Rodman played no role in freeing Warmbier and the timing of the release and Rodman’s arrival was a coincidence.

Three more American citizens and a Canadian remain in North Korean custody.

Trump on Friday urged the nation to pray for Warmbier. “I’m glad Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and I, along with a very talented team, were able to get Otto Warmbier back with his parents. What’s happened to him is a truly terrible thing,” Trump said in Miami at the start of a speech on Cuba. “But at least the ones who love him so much can now take care of him and be with him,” he said, urging Americans to keep the family “in our hearts and prayers.”

During his visit, Rodman played basketball with men’s and women’s teams, visited a zoo, met Olympic athletes and presented the sports minister with a copy of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” The unsigned book, and a “Where’s Waldo” travel edition, were to be passed on to Kim.

Rodman, who won five National Basketball Association championships with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls in the 1980 and 1990s, was a cast member for two seasons of Trump’s pre-presidency “Celebrity Apprentice” reality TV show.

For Rodman, who last traveled to North Korea in January 2014, this was his fifth visit.

Rodman created a stir by arriving in the country with his small entourage all wearing clothing and hats featuring the name of a company specializing in a cybercurrency used to buy and sell marijuana. Marijuana is illegal in North Korea.

On his four previous trips, Rodman received the red-carpet treatment each time and met with Kim on three of them.

The NBA Hall of Famer has described Kim as his “friend for life.” During his previous one-week trip, he organized an exhibition basketball game to mark Kim’s birthday.