Flamboyant basketball star Dennis Rodman became angry and lashed out at CNN's Chris Cuomo Tuesday morning when the host raised the subject of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, who's been detained in North Korea for more than a year.
Rodman, Charles D. Smith and six other former NBA players are in North Korea to take part in an exhibition game on the birthday of Kim Jong Un, the country's young leader. The game is scheduled for Wednesday, when Kim is believed to turn 31.
Rodman appeared calm throughout the interview until Cuomo asked, if given the opportunity, would he speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae. Normally adept at sidestepping such hot-button topics by simply denying it is any of his business, Rodman became visibly upset over the question.
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"The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did," Rodman, wearing his trademark dark glasses said. "Do you understand what he did? In this country?"
"What did he do?" Cuomo said. "You tell me."
"You tell me,” Rodman replied. "You tell me. Why is he held captive?"
"They haven't released any charges," Cuomo countered. "They haven't released any reason."
The retired NBA star then steered the conversation back to the players flanking him, talking of how these "guys have left their families to help this country."
Rodman first traveled to North Korea as part of a Vice documentary in 2013 and has been a vocal supporter of the country's dictator, often defending the friendship they have. Rodman believes basketball can help open North Korea up to the rest of the world.
Former New York Knicks star Smith defended Rodman’s efforts in the interview, saying the trip has been dwarfed by politics and Rodman's frequent boasts about his close relationship with Kim. “We’ve been doing these games for 3-and-a-half years,” Smith told Cuomo. “Outside of what people know of Dennis, you don’t know Dennis. He’s got a great heart, his passion is about children and families, that’s why we are here.
"We are here because it’s about doing great will around the world."
"This is not about me,” Rodman added. “If I can open the door a little bit — just a little bit …"
Rodman also likened his efforts to the Olympics.
"No one in the world ever asks why we have the Olympics … There’s no problems. It’s all about the game."