Before catching a flight to Pyongyang to start a five-day visit Tuesday, Rodman told Reuters in a telephone interview from Beijing: "I'm not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae. I've come out here to see my friend -- and I want to talk about basketball."
The friend he's referring to is a rather controversial one -- North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whom Rodman met and spent a lot of time with during a so-called basketball diplomacy trip for the "Vice" television news program earlier this year.
"I'm just trying to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the marshal," Rodman said. "Try to start a new basketball league over there, stuff like that." The basketball Hall of Famer seemed to have much higher aspirations for his trip when he spoke to the Huffington Post last week.
"I will definitely ask for Kenneth Bae's release," Rodman said, via CNN.com. "I will say, 'Marshal, why is this guy held hostage?' I could try and soften it up in that way." He added: "If the Marshal says, 'Dennis, you know, do you want me to let him loose?' and then if I actually got him loose -- and I'm just saying this out the blue -- I'd be the most powerful guy in the world."
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman emerged from his five-day trip to North Korea with a trove of photographs of himself being wined and dined by leader Kim Jong Un, but he angrily rejected calls to lobby for the release of an American detained in North Korea.
Dennis Rodman hugs North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun in a photo released by North Korea's KCNA news agency.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman will return to North Korea for a third time despite political tension surrounding the execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle.
Retired basketball star Dennis Rodman will return to North Korea for a third time on Thursday, despite political tension surrounding the execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, trip organizers said.
Dennis Rodman poses for photos after arriving at an airport in Pyongyang.
"It's certainly safe, even when there is a bit of disruption like there is now ”a bit of trouble or chaos” there's even more need for cultural or sporting exchanges," said Rory Scott, a spokesman for Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, which has arranged the trip.
"Yes, I'm going to North Korea to train the basketball team," he told The Associated Press by phone. "I'm going to bring American players over there. Yes I am. I'm going to be the most famous person in the world when you see American people holding hands and hoping the doors can be opened. If they can. If they can. If they can. I'm going. I'm going back for his birthday. Special."
In Washington, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, sought to distance the U.S. government from Rodman's visit. "We have not been contacted by Mr. Rodman about his trip to North Korea," said the official. "The State Department does not vet U.S. citizens' private travel to the DPRK."
North Koreans look down from a balcony as former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman enters the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea on Dec. 19, 2013. Rodman arrived to the North Korean capital to help train the national team and renew his friendship with the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday to meet leader Kim Jong Un and put the finishing touches on plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for a Jan. 8 exhibition game marking the leader's birthday. Rodman said the game is on track despite the recent execution of Kim's uncle in a dramatic political purge. Rodman's visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace for one of the most powerful figures in the country. Jang's execution sparked speculation by foreign analysts over the future of the Kim regime.
Rodman told The Associated Press in a brief interview at his Pyongyang hotel that he was undaunted by the recent political events. "I can't control what they do with their government, I can't control what they say or how they do things here," he said. "I'm just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country." "I've come over to see my friend, and people always give me a little hard time about me saying that," said Rodman, who was given the red carpet treatment at the airport by Vice Sports Minister Son Kwang Ho and O Hun Ryong, secretary-general of the North Korean Basketball Association.
Rodman arrives at Beijing's airport before his flight to North Korea on December 19.
Former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman walks with Vice Minister of North Korea's Sports Ministry, Son Kwang Ho, upon arrival at the international airport in Pyongyang
"I'm very proud to say he's my friend, because he hasn't done anything to put a damper, to say any negative things about my country." Rodman has not yet announced the roster for the game. He is also expected to train North Korean basketball players during his several-day stay in Pyongyang and to meet with Kim, though he did not give any details about what his plans are. He said, however, that if after the 12 former NBA players go home they say "some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country," then he has done his job.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman observed and coached North Korean players. Rodman hopes to bring former NBA players to North Korea for an exhibition game next month. (Dec. 20)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman held tryouts Friday for a North Korean team to face a dozen NBA veterans in an exhibition game on leader Kim Jong Un's birthday next month — though he hasn't convinced all the players on the American team that it's safe to come to Pyongyang. The flamboyant Hall of Famer said plans for the Jan. 8 game are moving ahead but some of the 12 Americans he wants are afraid to come.
"You know, they're still afraid to come here, but I'm just telling them, you know, don't be afraid man, it's all love, it's all love here," Rodman told The Associated Press after the tryouts at the Pyongyang Indoor Gymnasium. "I understand what's going on with the political stuff, and I say, I don't go into that venture, I'm just doing one thing for these kids here, and for this country, and for my country, and for the world pretty much." Rodman, who arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday, said he expects to announce the roster soon. He also said he is planning another game in June.