We could all learn something about friendship from Dennis Rodman. The ex-NBA player has lashed out again in angry defense of his "friend for life," North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un: "I am not going to sit there and go in and say 'hey guy, you’re doing the wrong thing'," Rodman explained angrily to Sky News. "That’s not the right thing to do. He’s my friend first. He’s my friend. I don’t give a fuck. I tell the world: he’s my fucking friend; I love him."
True friendship is without judgment, as Rodman knows. Did Kim threaten to "annihilate" Rodman's home country with nuclear missiles? Kinda. Did Kim execute his uncle, potentially by feeding him to a pack of half-starved wild dogs? Probs. Has Kim slaughtered scores of his own people for watching foreign films? Apparently. But a real bond between men is beyond that.
And on Tuesday, when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo suggested that Rodman should pause to reflect on Kim's rule, Rodman really lost it. Take Kenneth Bae, for example, the imprisoned American citizen in North Korea who last April was sentenced to 15 years’ manual labor and imprisonment for “hostility” against the country.
"Kenneth Bae did one thing," Rodman explained furiously to Cuomo. "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this."
Of course, Rodman has clarified in the past that he prioritizes friendship over human-rights violations. North Korea has refused to let American ambassador Robert King into the country to negotiate the terms of Bae's imprisonment — and though Rodman is OK to be let into North Korea, he isn't getting involved. “It is not my job to talk about Kenneth Bae,” he said last fall. “Ask Obama about that, ask Hillary Clinton about that. Ask those assholes.”
And what of that exhibition basketball game in North Korea Wednesday, when American players recruited by Rodman will play against Kim's team? "You know, you've got 10 guys here, 10 guys here, they've left their families, they've left their damn families, to help this country, as in a sports venture!" Rodman exploded at CNN's Cuomo. "I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them ... they dared to do one thing, they came here."
At this point, fellow player Charles Smith placed a hand on Rodman's arm. The world's most unlikely diplomat shook it off. "We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we're gonna take? Do you sir, are you going to take the abuse One day, one day, this door is going to open because these 10 guys here, all of us."
The power of male friendship didn't stop there. Smith tried to help Rodman out, interrupting him to tell CNN and other press that the visit was fundamentally about basketball, not politics.
"We’re playing semantics on the word ‘friend,’" he said of the man-love between Kim and Rodman. "We all know that when you use the term friend, it’s an endearing term. It’s an associate."
We know what you're trying to do, Smith. It's OK.
Rodman and Kim have been friends for one beautiful year, since VICE organized an ironic trip that saw basketball players flown ironically to North Korea. Little did anyone know that Rodman would strike up a non-ironic conversation with the brutal dictator, and that there'd be such a spark: Kim, a devout basketball fan, promptly invited Rodman to a boozy dinner. “I love him,” Rodman said at the time. “The guy’s awesome.”
The fun didn't end there. Rodman's returned to North Korea a number of times over the last year to visit his BFF, and is the only American to have a positive diplomatic relationship with the country. He's also one of the only non-North Koreans in the world to have met Kim's wife and baby girl, Ju-ae.
And dear God, never let it be said that Rodman isn’t taking his position seriously. “Syria, really?!” declared Rodman at a press event last fall. “Why, Obama, are you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman? You’re not afraid to talk to Beyoncé and Jay-Z — why not me? I’m pretty important now, right?”
One small point: Kim's had his ex-girlfriend and uncle brutally executed. Anyone thought about what might happen if his beloved basketball team loses to Rodman's on Wednesday?