Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Monday with a team of fellow former NBA players, including former Knicks player Charles Smith and former Sonics star Vin Baker, for an exhibition game on leader Kim Jong Un's birthday, after saying he wants to show that North Korea isn't such a bad country.
Rodman and friends joined Chris Cuomo via satellite on CNN Tuesday morning and Cuomo asked him on live TV whether he's going to bring up the case of Kenneth Bae.
Bae is the tour operator from Lynnwood who has been imprisoned there for planning what North Korea called a "religious coup d'etat."
Rodman got pretty upset.
Cuomo: "Are you going to take an opportunity if you get it, to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae and to say - 'Let us know why this man is being held. That this is wrong, that he is sick.'"
Rodman: "The one thing about politics. Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country?"
Cuomo: "What did he do? You tell me?"
Rodman: "No, no, no! You tell me! You tell me! Why is he held captive?!"
Cuomo: "They haven't released any reason."
Rodman: "You got 10 guys here that have left their families, left their damn families to help this country in a sports venture. You've got ten guys, all these guys here. Does anyone understand that?"
Now this may sound like nonsense talk, but I know what he's getting at.
Back in 1982 when KIRO sent a crew to the old Soviet Union for a week, I would do a Q&A with them from here in Seattle, and one of the ground rules was we would not ask anything that might get them in trouble. We knew the broadcast was obviously being monitored, and we were pretty sure the rooms were bugged, too.
Well, Rodman and company are in a much more dangerous place than that - where the exalted leader just offed his uncle. Clearly, the last thing they want to talk about on North Korean territory is Kenneth Bae.
"I don't give a [expletive], I don't give a rat's ass what you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys there - look at them!" shouted Dennis.
"But Dennis, don't put it on them, don't use them as an excuse for the behavior that you're putting on yourself," Cuomo said as Rodman continued to shout.
And when the discussion finally calmed down, Charles Smith of the Knicks, made that point.
"If we could just open the door, just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing," started a calmer Rodman.
"And Dennis makes a great point," said Smith. "There are other Americans here on this trip. You have to understand that we're not alone. We're in passage with about 50 people. There are other Americans that have been to Korea, in and out of Korea - they're here on the tour and we've interacted with them as well."
Smith says they are not there to play politics. "Understand that (Rodman) is not here, and that I am not here to talk any sense into any politician."
An American sitting in North Korea would be insane to go on CNN saying he's demanding the release of a prisoner held by a murderous dictator who kills at will and holds 120,000 political prisoners.
A report by Dave Ross and Owen Murphy.
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