After "735 days in North Korea" -- imprisoned, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, seemingly without much recourse to get back on American soil -- South Korean-born U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae finally returned home in late 2014.
It was one of those stories that quickly became stranger than fiction, as former NBA player Dennis Rodman somehow became entangled in the international diplomatic chaos that surrounded Bae’s detainment and release. In 2013 and 2014, Rodman expressed a series of seesawing sentiments on Bae’s detention -- and even despite the mixed bag of statements, Bae now sees Rodman as at least partially responsible for his freedom.
Bae stated his gratitude Monday on CNN’s “New Day,” his first live interview since his return.
"I want to thank Dennis Rodman for being a catalyst for my release," Bae said. “It all together worked out for good for my release … [so] I’m grateful.”
How large of a catalyst Rodman was is a matter of opinion, but the ever-outspoken NBA figure can at least be credited for bringing the controversy into the public discourse, when he began to throw out his opinions on the topic in May 2013.
But on a visit to North Korea in January of the next year, Rodman seemed to have changed his mind. Along with singing “Happy Birthday” to his “friend” and “very good guy” dictator Kim Jong Un, Rodman suggested to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Bae, in some part, deserved to be detained.
After Cuomo asked if Rodman would take advantage of his time with North Korea's leader to "speak up" for Bae and back his cause, Rodman barked back: “Can you understand what he did in this country? … You tell me, you tell me, why is he held captive? ... I don’t give a shit, I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think."
Rodman was swiftly and strongly chastised by Bae’s family, and later apologized for his comments, admitting that he was intoxicated during the interview.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Rodman said at the time. “It had been a very stressful day … My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart.”
“I embarrassed a lot of people,” he went on. “I’m very sorry. At this point, I should know better than to make political statements.”
Ten months later, Bae was released. And now, in spring 2016, even given the rub surrounding Rodman’s remarks, Bae is grateful for any and all light the Hall of Famer managed to shed on the situation.
“Because of his rant, the media attention on my plight was increased,” Bae explained during Monday’s interview. “If I meet him someday, I’ll just want to say ‘thank you’ for what he has done, it really brought international attention [to] my plight.”
Naturally, Rodman got the final word on the matter with a tweet later Monday morning: “Thanks for the support Kenneth Bae but all that matters is you’re back in the USA with your family. Much love!”