CNN – Dennis Rodman’s latest round of controversial “basketball diplomacy” in a country ruled by one of the world’s most repressive regimes is about to begin.
The former NBA star and a documentary crew are due to fly Thursday afternoon from China to North Korea, where he is to spend four days helping train a team of North Korean basketball players for a January exhibition in Pyongyang.
That January 8 exhibition — said to be against a yet-unannounced team of former NBA players — will celebrate the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Rodman has called a friend and a “very good guy” despite international condemnation of the country’s human rights records.
Rodman’s trip — sponsored by the UK-based online betting company Paddy Power — is the 52-year-old’s third to North Korea.
Rodman said he struck a friendship with Kim, a basketball fan, during Rodman’s first trip in February. After the two men sat next to each other watching a basketball exhibition in North Korea’s capital, Rodman told Kim that “you have a friend for life.”