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'The Worm' Turns Up In North Korea: Dennis Rodman Is On Visit

Posted: February 26, 2013

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The flamboyant former NBA star, now 51, has gone to the communist country for some basketball diplomacy and to take part in a film being made for HBO.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, in the departure hall of Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday, before his flight to North Korea.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, in the departure hall of Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday, before his flight to North Korea. Andy Wong

This comes from The Associated Press, not The Onion:

"PYONGYANG, North Korea — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman brought his basketball skills Tuesday and flamboyant style — neon-bleached hair, tattoos, nose studs and all — to the isolated communist country with possibly the world's drabbest dress code: North Korea.

"Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as 'The Worm' became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader Kim Jong Un is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Rodman won three championships with the club.

"Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for a Vice Media production to air on HBO in early April, Vice founder Shane Smith told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before the group's departure from Beijing."

Smith tells the AP that Rodman and the others may run a basketball camp for children and hope to play some pickup games with North Korean athletes. The U.S. State Department wasn't consulted about the trip, an official tells the wire service.

Last month, there was the news that Rodman has written a book for children; Dennis The Wild Bull. Now 51, Rodman last played during the 1999-2000 season, with the Dallas Mavericks. He's a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which says of Rodman:

"Loud. Flamboyant. Brash. Brilliant. While Dennis Rodman was both celebrated and hated for his tattoos, colorful hair, and bad boy attitude, there was no denying the greatness of a man that controlled games just by controlling the boards. The six-foot-eight-inch forward led the NBA in rebounds per game for a record-setting seven consecutive seasons from 1991 to 1998. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Defensive First Team honoree, Rodman loved doing the dirty work that is crucial to a team's success. "The Worm" won his first NBA championship in 1989 with the Detroit Pistons. The following year Rodman was the league's best defender and he helped the Pistons capture a second consecutive ring. In 1995, after a short stint with the San Antonio Spurs, Rodman landed in Chicago where he teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan to bring the Windy City three titles in three years. A three-time All-America at Southeastern Oklahoma State, Rodman led the NAIA in rebounding his junior and senior seasons."

As NPR's Frank Langfitt tells our Newscast Desk, Rodman's visit comes at yet another tense time: "Earlier this month, North Korea tested its third nuclear device, angering the its neighbors in Northeast Asia as well as the U.S."

Oh, and how did he get that nickname? The NBA's "Hoopedia" website says it was "given to him by his mother for wriggling around while playing pinball."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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