BEIJING — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman lashed out Tuesday at suggestions that he is playing a patsy to dictator Kim Jong Un by putting on an exhibition game in one of the world's most brutal dictatorships.
"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?" he told CNN's Chris Cuomo in an interview.
When asked about whether he would raise the issue of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been detained in North Korea since May, Rodman again became agitated.
"Kenneth Bae did one thing ... 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. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this."
Rodman led 12 U.S. players to Pyongyang on Monday in what he described as an attempt to use basketball to build a bridge between the West and his "friend," North Korean President Kim Jong Un.
The flamboyant former Chicago Bulls forward has struck up an unlikely friendship with the reportedly basketball-loving leader, who had his powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek executed last month and continues to jail whole families for criticizing his dictatorship.
Rodman said he will play an exhibition game Wednesday to mark the birthday of Kim, the third generation of the Kim dynasty that has ruled North Korea since the 1950s. His roster includes former NBA stars Vin Baker, Kenny Anderson, Doug Christie, Eric "Sleepy" Floyd, Charles D. Smith and Cliff Robinson, and some players who were never in the NBA.
On Tuesday, Rodman and his team were keeping busy. The players went to a practice session Tuesday with their North Korean opponents. En route, Rodman showed off a locally designed bottle of vodka bearing an illustration of Rodman and North Korea's young dictator. The pair bonded over a liquor-fueled banquet last February.
On Monday, after the team arrived from Beijing, Rodman was treated to an evening banquet and speeches with the North Korean ministry of Sport.
Michael Spavor, a Canadian co-organizer of Rodman's trip, released photos showing the U.S. and Korean players bonding with linked arms in a huddle during practice Tuesday.
The Korean players suffer a distinct height disadvantage, though Rodman had to look up at one of their players, Ri Myung Hun, who stands at 7-foot-8. Ri 's NBA dreams in the 1990s were thwarted by the tense relations between the USA and North Korea.
Rodman insisted Tuesday that his trip can "open the door" to the isolated nation. When asked by reporters in Beijing on Monday about whether he had anything to say about Kim's repressive rule, Rodman said it was not his concern.
"(It's) not my job" to talk human rights, he said. "This game is for his birthday, and hopefully this opens the doors and we can actually talk about certain things and we can do certain things. But I'm not going to sit there and go 'hey, guy, you're doing the wrong thing.' It's not the right thing to do, he's my friend first. ... I love him," Rodman said.
Fellow player Smith said the players were invited by North Korea to take part in a "cultural exchange" with other Americans and to "put smiles on people's faces."
"We've been doing these games for 3½ years," he said. "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," Smith said.
Rodman became agitated with the questioning.
"One day, one day, this door is going to open because these 10 guys here, all of us, Christie, Vin, Dennis, Charles ... I mean everybody here, if we could open the door just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing."
On Monday he defended North Korea's regime.
"Not every country in the world is that bad, especially North Korea," he said. "People say so many negative things about North Korea. And I want people in the world to see it's not that bad."
Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have criticized Rodman for visiting a country that has overseen the starvation of millions of its people and keeps as many as 200,000 people imprisoned for political crimes that include criticizing Kim's policies.
According to Human Rights Watch, Kim's government does not allow organized political opposition, free media or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and state-approved rape "remain serious and pervasive problems." North Korea "enslaves" hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other "anti-socialist" crimes.
The U.N. says the Kim family directs food aid to military and government officials, and that an estimated 2 million people have died from famine due to the government's policies
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., has said Rodman or any public figure who meets with Kim has a responsibility to raise the country's "appalling" human rights record.