In 2013 and 2014, Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman made multiple trips to North Korea. He repeatedly hung out with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who is apparently a big basketball fan.
“We got in depth with Chicago and about the Bulls,” Rodman told Yahoo Sports in 2019.
Rodman was fairly complimentary of Kim, who oversees a repressive, secluded nation, but his niceties did not go over well back in the United States — especially because his North Korea visits were not diplomatically sanctioned. According to a new report from The Athletic, however, the Obama White House actually did weigh the idea of a former Chicago Bulls player attempting some hoops diplomacy.
The player in question wasn’t going to be Rodman, though. They instead discussed Bulls sharpshooter Steve Kerr, now the coach of the Golden State Warriors.
Marcus Noland, an economist who’s studied North Korea, visited the Oval Office in May 2012. In his meeting with then-President Obama, he suggested an unusual idea: send Kerr, along with a couple of diplomats, to North Korea in an attempt to soften up the basketball-crazy Kim.
As Noland saw it, Kerr and Kim could shoot around while diplomats got a feel for the new leader of North Korea. (Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011.) Who knows? Perhaps Kerr might be able to usher in some limited dialogue between the two countries, Noland figured.
The Athletic story notes that Obama was mostly poker-faced during Noland’s pitch, which ultimately did not come to fruition. If Obama had pitched it to Kerr, however, the Dubs coach says he would’ve gone for it.
“If he had asked me to do it, I would’ve done it,” he told The Athletic. And, he added, he would’ve gone all-out — unless Obama had advised him to throw any shooting competitions that arose.
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