Dennis Rodman visits North Korea for the fourth time. This time, he brought 10 other former NBA players with him to train the North Korean basketball players for an exhibition game that coincides with Kim Jong Un's 31st birthday.
In an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN, Rodman reacted angrily when pressed if he could ask Kim about Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Nov. 2012 and convicted last spring by North Korea of "hostile acts" intended to topple the government. Bae was sentenced to 15 years in labor camp.
"Do you understand what he did in this country?" Rodman asked Cuomo, suggesting that the Korean-American Christian was at fault. "No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this."
"You know, you've got 10 guys here, 10 guys here, that have left their families, they've left their damn families, to help this country in a sports venture. That's 10 guys, all these guys here, do anyone understand that?"
"We do," said Cuomo. "And we appreciate that and we wish them well with cultural exchange."
Rodman did not take well of Cuomo's response, and emphasized that "these guys," the 10 former NBA players, dared to do one thing - "they came here."
According to Rodman's reasoning, if the public should respect him and the players just for visiting North Korea and teaching them basketball, then how much more should Bae be respected for going into the isolated nation to work as a tour operator.
Bae, a married father of three, has reportedly suffered a series of health problems during his detention.
His mother, who visited in October, told CNN that her son was a devout Christian who had not understood the system in North Korea. North Korea is officially an atheist state.
His sister, Terri Chung, told Anderson Cooper 360 that Rodman's comments were shocking and outrageous. But she said she was upset because Rodman didn't use his relationship with Kim to help gain her brother's release from the hospital.
"He was in a position to do some good and to help advocate for Kenneth," she said. "He refused to do so. But then instead he has chosen to hurl these outrageous accusations against Kenneth. He clearly doesn't know anything about Kenneth, about his case. And so we were appalled by that."
She said her brother was in North Korea legally working as a tour operator. She hoped one of the former basketball players would take a chance to ask for amnesty for him.
"This isn't some game. This is about a person's life," she said.
Rodman's CNN interview footage has since sparked an online debate.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Rodman is on a private trip, and the U.S. government's views on North Korea and its failure to meet its obligation have not changed and views on Bae have not changed.
"We have not been contacted by Mr. Rodman," said Carney. "The U.S. government does not vet U.S. citizen's private travel to North Korea."
The trip is Rodman's fourth to the isolated nation, part of a project he has described as "basketball diplomacy."
But the U.S. State Department has said that attention should be focused on sharpening the choices that regime faces between further isolation and economic depravation from using its resources to fund its nuclear ambitions or to come in line with its international obligations and easy that.
The NBA distanced itself Tuesday from Rodman.
"The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman's North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement released by the league.
"Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them."