Former basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived back in North Korea Tuesday for the fifth time, hoping to do “something pretty positive” to help ease tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
The NBA Hall of Fame star is not on an official mission, but is instead being sponsored on his trip by a cryptocurrency called Potcoin, which processes payments from weed dispensaries.
Rodman first announced his intention to head back to the mysterious kingdom Monday, posting messages on Twitter and YouTube. An official statement by Potcoin didn’t reveal the exact purpose of the visit, but said: “Rodman is in the very rare position to be able to claim long-time friendships with both the Supreme Leader of North Korea, as well as with the current President of the United States.”
Speaking to CNN before he left China for his final destination, Rodman declined to say if he had spoken to Trump prior to his trip, but added: “I’m pretty sure he’s happy at the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”
Rodman tweeted a photo of himself holding two airline tickets for the state-owned Air Koryo on Tuesday, before thanking Potcoin for “sponsoring my mission.”
Return of the King. pic.twitter.com/wxgslVTTHi
— DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) June 13, 2017
Potcoin followed up by posting a short YouTube video showing the basketball star dressed in a t-shirt and baseball hat emblazoned with their logo.
Rodman is a former contestant on Donald Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” and endorsed Trump during the 2016 election campaign. Upon arrival in Pyongyang, Rodman was asked if he had a message from Trump for Kim Jong Un, but avoided the question, simply saying he was there to see friends and “have a good time.”
The U.S. state department said it is aware of his visit, but reiterated that Rodman is not travelling to Pyongyang in an official capacity. “We wish him well. But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety,” said U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, according to Reuters.
While there are currently three Americans in detention in North Korea, Rodman told CNN he wouldn’t be bringing up that matter during his visit. “Well that’s not my purpose right now. My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea,” the former Chicago Bulls forward said, describing his series of visits to the country as “basketball diplomacy.”
“Anyone who knows Dennis knows he’s trying to use his relationship to open the line of communication and send a message of peace and understanding,” said Rodman’s long-time agent Darren Prince in a statement.
During previous visits to North Korea, Rodman has been seen singing happy birthday to Kim Jong-un as well as calling him “a very good guy” — a view completely at odds with that of the international community, which largely sees Kim as a brutal dictator.
A shrewd publicity stunt
Potcoin was originally designed as a way to give cannabis dispensaries access to banking services at a time when credit card companies wouldn’t process payments for dispensaries due to the murky legal issues surrounding legalized marijuana.
The company was created over three years ago — a long time in the world of cryptocurrencies. While bitcoin briefly broke the $3,000 mark for the first time ever Monday, almost all other cryptocurrencies are still worth just a tiny fraction of that.
Ahead of the news Tuesday that it was sponsoring Rodman’s trip, one Potcoin was worth 10 cents. Following the announcement, the price surged 50 percent to 15 cents and was still climbing Tuesday morning.
Although there is a popular belief that pot is legal in North Korea, this is wrong. Drug use is punishable by death in the hermit kingdom, though experts say anyone caught smoking marijuana would likely escape this fate.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS