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Dennis Rodman has returned to North Korea — his fourth trip to the communist country — this time bringing a team of former NBA players to play a friendly game against a North Korean squad on dictator Kim Jong-un‘s birthday.
The Hall of Famer continues to be criticized for his friendly relations with the brutal regime, which recently executed Kim’s uncle and has detained U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae for more than a year after he was found guilty of “hostile acts” and attempts to overthrow the government.
But Rodman doesn’t seem to think those issues are as important as the 10 men who accompanied him to North Korea to play basketball, taking time away from their families to do so.
“If you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me,” he said as Cuomo asked him to explain what Bae did. “Why is he held captive here in this country? Why? … I would love to speak on this.”
But instead the former NBA star changed the subject to his fellow travelers, making it seem like Cuomo was ignoring the personal sacrifices they made to join him.
“You know, you’ve got 10 guys here, 10 guys here, they’ve left their families, they’ve left their damn families, to help this country, as in a sports venture. That’s 10 guys, all these guys here, do anyone understand that? Christmas, New Year’s,” Rodman explained.
As Cuomo tried to interject, Rodman exploded, saying, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think! I’m saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them! … They dared to do one thing, they came here.”
He continued to lash out at Cuomo, saying the CNN anchor doesn’t understand the abuse that he and his teammates will face when they return to the U.S.
“You’re the guy behind the mic right now,” Rodman told Cuomo. “We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we’re going to take? Do you, sir, are you going to take the abuse?”
Some of Rodman’s teammates looked uncomfortable as he bashed Cuomo, and fellow player Charles D. Smith tried to calm the discussion after Rodman finished.
Smith said that the visit was about basketball, not politics, calling it kind of a “cultural exchange” to “put smiles on people’s faces” rather than trying to influence North Korea’s leaders. He also defended Rodman, saying the former NBA star has “a great heart.” And he argued that he and his fellow basketball players’ many international trips, including visiting typhoon victims in Asia, are an attempt to do “great will around the world.”
“We’re doing what we do; we play basketball and that’s what we love to do,” Smith said. “We didn’t know it was going to take this kind of negative spin with what we are doing because we’re not politicians, we’re not ambassadors. We’re here to do what we’ve been doing most of our lives.”
Smith also apologized for “the storm that has been created by our presence.”
Watch Rodman’s exchange with Cuomo below.
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