Slam dunk for North Korea: Way to go HBO, and whose idea was this anyway?

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By Donald Kirk,

This just in — Dennis Rodman wasn’t quite Kim Jong-Un’s first choice as his guest for fun and games in Pyongyang. There was actually a move afoot to invite Michael Jordan, but there was a catch.

The idea was that he would have gone with the blessing of the White House as a show of gratitude that would have put off plans for the North’s third underground nuclear test.

Can anyone believe the deal would have been that simple? An informant who professes to know a thing or two, who’s been to North Korea a few times, swears the North was serious.

Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watch a Harlem Globetrotters game. / KCNA / EPA
Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watch a Harlem Globetrotters game. /KCNA/EPA

The White House, of course, would hear nothing of it for obvious reasons — for the U.S. to agree would mean recognition of the North, acceptance of the North’s nuclear program as a bargaining tool, and would open the way to deal after deal, threat after threat until the U.S. had acquiesced to all the North’s demands, including, no doubt, withdrawal of its 28,500 troops from the South and abrogation of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

All that reasoning does sound plain and simple, but the idea of basketball diplomacy raised some intriguing questions beginning with the notion, conveyed by Rodman, that his new pal Kim Jong-Un would like nothing better than a plain and simple phone conversation with President Obama.

Just think of all they could talk about. For one thing, Rodman, like Jordan, played for the Chicago Bulls when they were the high fliers of the world and Obama was an up-and-coming Chicago politician. Obama attended a church in Chicago where a leftist pastor regularly inveighed against all the evils of life in America.

Maybe Obama and Kim Jong-Un could talk a little about their concern for victims of discrimination, for the plight of the poor and the horrible conditions to which some systems subject their prisoners – the U.S. sending them to all these jails where bloody riots are regular occurrences and North Korea putting tens of thousands into one gulag or another.

Kim Jong-Un might have a tough time on the topic of the gulag system since the operation run by North Korea’s last high-profile guest in January pretty much identified and photographed all such on planet earth.

That guest, to be sure, didn’t get to see the kid, only to visit some library where a student googled Cornell University, but the kid must have been aware of the images that appeared on the Internet shortly after Eric Schmidt & Company went home. (The “company” included his nasty daughter, who blogged some really funny impressions about what she and her old man had been doing and looking at up there, especially while bowing and scraping before the bods of the kid’s father and grandfather.)

Ok, but seriously, Obama and Kim Jong-Un might have more to talk about than the Chicago Bulls. Think about the “pivot.” As we’ve noted before, that’s actually a basketball term. A player pivots and shoots. Or pivots and passes. Or pivots and pivots again, going around in circles, trying to get around all those waving arms and surreptitious elbow digs.

Having gotten off on the topic of the pivot, Obama could segue from there into his much talked about “pivot” toward Asia. The idea would be to warn Kim Jong-Un: “Watch out, while we’re pulling out of Afghanistan, we’ve got your 1.2-million man army and nuclear and missile sites in our sights.”

Rodman was probably not thinking of all that when he let it be known how great it would be if these two guys could just talk to each other.

As a matter of fact, just what was Dennis thinking? Did anyone brief him and the Harlem Globetrotters who accompanied him about North Korea? Who really arranged for this trip? We know it was for HBO and Vice Media, but who got through to HBO and the Vice people? Were they just sitting around one day, dreaming up ideas for the next segment, when someone said, Hey, how about North Korea, and another voice piped up, We should get Dennis Rodman to go there.

And then another one pumped the words into Rodman’s head — call Kim Jong-Un “awesome” and a ”friend for life.” We’re still awaiting the back story on how the trip came about and what were they thinking when they had Dennis saying all that stuff.

No answers to all that, but no sooner had Dennis got back home than North Korea was talking about scrapping the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Then reports started coming out of North Korean plans for exercises in the Yellow Sea, a challenge no doubt to South Korean forces below the Northern Limit Line the North refuses to recognize.

Good job, Dennis, HBO and Vice. Now maybe Michael Jordan should go after all.