PYONGYANG, North Korea —
Shown a photo of a snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest, one North Korean in Pyongyang recoiled and said: “He looks like a monster!”
But Rodman is also a Hall of Fame basketball player and one of the best defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. During a storied, often controversial career, he won five NBA championships — a feat appreciated even in North Korea.
Rodman, now 51, was low-key and soft-spoken Tuesday in cobalt blue sweatpants and a Polo Ralph Lauren cap. There was a bit of flash: white-rimmed sunglasses and studs in his nose and lower lip. But he told AP he was there to teach basketball and talk to people, not to stir up trouble.
Showier were three Harlem Globetrotters dressed in fire-engine red. Rookie Moose Weekes flashed the crowd a huge smile as he made his way off the Air Koryo plane.
“We use the basketball as a tool to build cultural ties, build bridges among countries,” said Buckets Blakes, a Globetrotters veteran. “We’re all about happiness and joy and making people smile.”
Rodman’s trip is the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the U.S. It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of U.N. bans against atomic and missile activity.
Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.
Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.