How former basketball star Dennis Rodman became one of the few Americans welcome in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea

The last time Dennis Rodman visited North Korea, he delighted the country’s young ruler with a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” suffered an angry meltdown on CNN while defending his trip, and spent time at a rehab facility after returning to the United States in rough shape.

He probably hopes things will go more smoothly on his latest visit to North Korea, which started Tuesday. The trip extends Rodman’s surprising relationship with 30-something North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took power in 2011 but has yet to meet a more high-profile foreigner than the heavily tattooed former NBA bad boy.

Critics slammed Rodman over his past trips, saying he allowed himself to be a public relations tool for Pyongyang. He’s likely to face similar accusations now: His visit comes amid international condemnation over North Korea’s accelerating efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, which poses one of the toughest foreign policy challenges for President Donald Trump.

Here’s look at Rodman’s previous visits to North Korea:


Rodman is a rare individual who can claim friendships with both Kim and Trump.

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Castmembers Dennis Rodman, Trace Adkins, Stephen Baldwin, Brande Roderick, Lil Jon, Dee Snider, Lisa Rinna, Donald Trump, Gary Busey, Marilu Henner, Penn Jillette, Claudia Jordan, and Brett Michaels attend the ‘Celebrity Apprentice All Stars’ Season 13 Bus Tour at on October 12, 2012 in New York City.
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Getty Images/Stephen Lovekin

Rodman worked with Trump as a cast member on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009 and again in 2013.


He traveled to North Korea for the first time in February 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by VICE television.

Since then, Rodman has traveled to the country four times, according to his publicist.


During Rodman’s first trip, he and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang.

Kim is known to be a basketball enthusiast, and he and Rodman chatted as they watched players from North Korea and the United States play on mixed teams. Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, “You have a friend for life,” a VICE spokesman said then.


After the game, the VICE crew and the players were rushed across Pyongyang unexpectedly for a dinner with Kim and other members of North Korea’s government.

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VICE News

Rodman’s 2013 trip came just two weeks after North Korea conducted the first of three underground nuclear tests it has done under the rule of Kim, who is openly pursuing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the US mainland.


Rodman also visited North Korea in January 2014, just weeks after Kim made a stunningly violent move to strengthen his grip on power

Kim had executed his uncle and onetime No. 2 Jang Song Thaek for alleged treason.


Rodman still went through with a plan to take a group of retired NBA players to North Korea for an exhibition game, which soon became overshadowed by politics.

Rodman had said the game would a “birthday present” for his “best friend” Kim. But he suffered an angry meltdown on CNN before the game when asked whether during the trip he would raise the issue of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who was detained in North Korea at the time on charges of “anti-state crimes.”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think,” Rodman yelled in response to the CNN question. “One day this door is going to open because of these 10 guys here.”


At the start of the exhibition game, Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim, who was seated in the arena.

Rodman bowed deeply as the North Korean players clapped.

Former NBA player Charles Smith said at the time that he felt remorse for coming to Pyongyang with Rodman because the event was dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman’s own comments.

“Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us,” Smith told The Associated Press before the exhibition game. “Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on – he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later.”


Rodman later apologized for the comments he made on Kenneth Bae.

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Kenneth Bae (L) reunites with his family at U.S. Air Force Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Fort Lewis, Washington Nov. 8, 2014.
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Reuters/David Ryder

“I embarrassed a lot of people,” Rodman said in his apology. “I’m very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.”

Bae was released in November 2014. He had originally been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on allegations of committing “hostile acts.”


After returning to the US following the 2014 visit, Rodman spent three weeks at a New Jersey-based alcohol rehabilitation center.

Rodman said the rehab stint was not about giving up drinking, but to “decompress from all things” he was going through.

“I was trying to get this game going and get everything going in North Korea,” Rodman told the AP then. “It was a lot.”


Rodman’s agent Darren Prince said Rodman had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized the Pyongyang exhibition game.

“What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned,” Prince said at the time. “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him.”


In an ESPN interview after his 2014 trip, Rodman expressed some remorse for his visits and friendly relationship with Kim.

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ESPN

“If you don’t want me to go back there ever again, I won’t go back.” Rodman told ESPN’s Mark Schwarz. “If I put anyone in harm’s way, I apologize, you know.

“I wish they understood the whole purpose of why I went to North Korea … I wish they did,” he continued.

But Rodman also appeared confused at the backlash he had received.

“What makes me so damn bad? What makes me this bad, awful person?” he said. “At least someone tried … So that’s how I look at it. You know, I don’t want to be a hero, I don’t want to be this, I don’t want to be that. I just wanted to be, just do happy things and do great things in life. That’s all I wanted to do. That’s it.”


Rodman has been quiet so far on the purpose behind his current trip, only tweeting an announcement of his arrival on Tuesday.

Reporters greeted Rodman at an airport in Beijing as he prepared to depart for his flight. He told told them, “I’m just trying to open the door” to the regime.

He also declined answer reporters’ questions on whether he spoke about his trip with Trump.

“I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need,” Rodman said. Trump has, in the past, expressed support for Rodman’s visits to North Korea and said they were “smart.”

Rodman also said on Twitter he would discuss his “mission” upon his return, and thanked his sponsor PotCoin.