PYONGYANG, North Korea >> Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, vowing to come back again soon, on Saturday wrapped up a low-key and incident-free visit to the North Korean capital.
On his way to the airport, Rodman vowed to return and said his “thoughts and prayers” are with the family of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was arrested and imprisoned in the North for 17 months, then released just hours before Rodman’s arrival.
Warmbier suffered severe brain damage while in custody. Doctors in Ohio described him as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” but declined to discuss his outlook for improvement, saying such information would be kept confidential.
U.S. and North Korean officials said Rodman played no role in freeing Warmbier and the timing of the release and Rodman’s arrival was a coincidence.
Three more American citizens remain in North Korean custody.
During his visit, Rodman played basketball with men’s and women’s teams, visited the city zoo, met Olympic athletes and presented the country’s sports minister with a copy of President Donald Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.” The unsigned book, and a “Where’s Waldo” travel edition, were to be passed on to leader Kim Jong Un, who Rodman had met on previous visits in 2013 band 2014.
Rodman was on two seasons of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality TV show.
Rodman created a stir by arriving in the country with his small entourage all wearing clothing and hats featuring the name of a company specializing in a cybercurrency used to buy and sell marijuana.
Marijuana is illegal in North Korea.
His earlier trips generated a storm of publicity, especially when he regaled leader Kim with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” at an exhibition game he had arranged that included some other former NBA players. On the same trip, he suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.
Although U.S. citizens are not banned from visiting North Korea, the U.S. State Department strongly advises against it.
Rodman, who arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, was scheduled to fly to Beijing before returning to the United States.