SINGAPORE ― As the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was underway in Singapore, former NBA star Dennis Rodman broke down in tears discussing the historic meeting during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
“Today is a great day for everybody,” he added.
Rodman, who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, told Cuomo that he’d long touted the possibility of wagering peace with North Korea — but said no one had believed him.
“Obama didn’t even give me the time of day. I asked him, I said, I have something to say from North Korea, and he just brushed me off,” Rodman told the CNN host. “But that didn’t deter me. I still kept going back, kept going back … I said to everybody, the door will open.
Tearing up, Rodman said he’d received “death threats” for what he’d said about North Korea. “I couldn’t even go home,” he said, his voice breaking. “But I kept my head up high, brother. I knew things were going to change.
“I’m not in this for no money,” he later added. “This is not about Dennis Rodman being the greatest person in the world that lead these two people together.”
The former basketball player, who has visited Pyongyang several times, is one of a very small group of Westerners who has personally met with Kim, whom he referred to as a “good friend.”
Rodman first traveled to North Korea in 2013 with a documentary crew from Vice News to hold a basketball exhibition. He sat courtside with Kim during the game and the two hit it off so well that the former NBA star has regularly visited Pyongyang since.
His most recent visit coincided with the release of American student Otto Warmbier last year, who had been imprisoned in the country for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. Warmbier was freed but was in a coma and died just days after his return to the U.S.
Rodman later said he asked Kim to release the student “three times” during that visit, and he urged the North Korean leader to do so as an act of “good faith.” Both the State Department and Warmbier’s father denied that the basketball player had anything to do with the release, however.
When asked by Cuomo whether Kim can speak English, Rodman answered: “He’s more like a big kid, even though he’s small ― he loves to have a good time …. This guy wants to be around the world, he wants to come to America, he wants to enjoy his life, he wants his people to enjoy this life.”
Pressed again to answer whether Kim can speak or understand English, Rodman replied that he can understand “bits and pieces. If you talk about basketball, yes, he understands that.”
“I can say one thing: People know that Kim Jong Un is not a dumb man,” he added.
Rodman made no mention during the interview of the repressive policies and practices of Kim’s regime, including the alleged murders of his relatives and the brutal imprisonment of political prisoners. When asked about the “violence” and “negativity” perpetuated by Kim in North Korea, Rodman countered that he’s “not a politician.”
“I don’t see the politics of this whole situation. I don’t want to see that. I want to see that go away. I want to see us get along,” he told Cuomo. “To have a handshake, have a smile, have a glass of iced tea.”
Rodman ― who claimed a Trump aide had recently called him and told him that “Donald Trump is so proud of you, he thanks you a lot” ― had some words of wisdom for the president.
Go into the meeting with Kim with your “heart on the table,” he advised Trump.
Immediately after his interview with Rodman, Cuomo told former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the former NBA player is “our best resource” to understanding Kim.
“I agree, Chris,” Clapper replied, “as weird as that is.”