BEIJING (Reuters) - Retired U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman appealed on Monday for the world to set aside politics, if only for a day, as he arrived in China from North Korea where he sparked an outcry with comments over an American imprisoned there.
The 52-year-old angered many people in the United States with an interview last week in which he implied that Kenneth Bae, a U.S. missionary imprisoned by North Korea, was to blame for his incarceration rather than authorities there.
Rodman, who calls himself a friend of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, apologized for the comments made during his visit to North Korea with a group of fellow U.S. basketball players.
Rodman was met by a throng of media as he made his way, flanked by burly bodyguards, through the airport terminal to a waiting car.
“I want to tell people that no matter what’s going on in the world, for one day, just one day, not politics, not all this stuff,” he said.
“I’m not the president, I’m not an ambassador, I’m Dennis Rodman, just an individual, just showing the world a fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day.”
He then appeared to be overcome with emotion and seemed to start crying as he moved away from the media, repeating “I’m sorry”.
Rodman expressed regret over the interview on Thursday in which he implied Bae was to blame for his imprisonment, saying he had been feeling emotional after drinking.
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for state subversion in North Korea, where he was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group. North Korea’s Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
On Monday, Rodman expressed his thanks to “the Marshal”, which is Kim’s official title, for enabling his visit.
“It’s amazing that I had the opportunity just to go to North Korea, and for the Marshal to give me an opportunity just to be in his presence in the city,” he said. “This is not a bad deal.”
Rodman had staged a basketball match in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to commemorate Kim’s birthday, drawing the ire of human rights activists. He also visited a ski resort in the isolated state.
Rodman led a chorus of North Koreans in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Kim.
The fading basketball star’s trips had previously been financed by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, although it has now withdrawn its funding.
Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell and Michael Martina