Dennis Rodman has been called a lot of things. The Worm, The Freak, best rebounding forward in NBA history, drug addict and the All-Star list goes on. Never, in his 51 years on this planet, has he been called a diplomat. Until now.
On Feb. 26, five-time NBA champ and former Chicago Bulls forward arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea to begin filming basketball exhibitions for an upcoming documentary called “Vice.”
Along with him traveled three members of the Harlem Globetrotters, all of whom were recruited to help fill out a squad. An amazingly eclectic squad, that is, in a part of the world that’s known to be rather drab. I mean, have you seen their monochromatic get-ups? Gray is so ‘90s, but I guess that they’re into that sort of thing.
Indeed, former leader Kim-Jong-il had a soft spot in his heart for Air Jordan’s ‘90s dynasty. He passed this passion onto his son, current leader Kim Jong-un, who expedited a trip for the pierced low man of a bygone era. Hoopster diplomacy, it’s a beautiful concept.
Things between North Korea and the United States are, well, a bit tense at the moment. The trip comes on the heels of a bold weapons test by the deceivingly diminutive country, and generally, national goodwill for Americans is not very high. Evidently, this distaste does not extend to American basketball players. Yeah, things are kind of strange like that.
When I first heard this news, it made me laugh a little. And then a lot. I don’t know much about North Korea besides the fact that it’s whited out on Google maps and that the movie “Team America: World Police” is pretty hilarious. But I do know, to point out the obvious, that it’s quite a different place. I also know that we do have something in common, and that is agreeing that Dennis Rodman is fun to watch play basketball.
This is a woefully simple sentiment, but if we can find shared humanity in Dennis Rodman, then it would seem like there is a meeting ground for other things that we love. That people love, I mean. As an environmentalist, I can’t help but see a link between Rodman and the natural systems and landscapes that surround us. North Korea, Chicago — wherever we are, our environmental impact matters.
Last spring, well before the arrival of Rodman, Pyongyang also played host to an international community of scientists addressing the environmental challenges that the isolated country faces.
Specifically, the fact that rabid deforestation in when else, the ‘90s, had greatly reduced the country’s ability to produce food. Hosted by the Pyongyang International Information Center for New Technology, the conference also focused on agroforestry, reforestation, soil rehabilitation and climate change mitigation. In a rather unprecedented invitation, five American scientists were brought along for the ride.
Despite escalating tensions between nations, this kind of collaboration is hopeful. Indeed, it’s necessary as we move into an era where dog headed isolationism is not a viable option for environmental systems that function on a global scale. So all that we can find in common is science and basketball? Let’s focus on working within this middle ground. In the words of The Worm himself, “we’re not politicians. We’re here to have a good time.” Amen.