By now, you probably know that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is a "die-hard basketball fan" who told former Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman he had a "friend for life" in the Hermit Kingdom. (VICE magazine has just released photos, including the one above, of Rodman and Kim taking in a basketball game between members of the Harlem Globetrotters and North Korea’s "Dream Team" in Pyongyang.)
But being a "die-hard fan" can mean something different when you’re the supreme leader of a country, and both Kim and his father Kim Jong Il — also a legendary NBA enthusiast — have taken their basketball fandom to impressive heights in the decades they’ve controlled North Korea. For an excellent primer on the special relationship between the Kim family and the NBA, see this 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune article. Some choice bits from the piece:
- Kim Jong Il is believed to have installed regulation basketball courts at most of his palaces, and a library with videos of almost every game Michael Jordan ever played for the Bulls.
- Chinese media report that North Korea has developed its own scoring system for the game: three points for a dunk, four points for a three pointer that doesn’t touch the rim, and eight points for a basket scored in the final three seconds. (This rule is … intriguing? The endings of North Korean basketball games must be cutthroat!) A missed free throw means minus-one point.
- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000 brought Kim Jong Il an NBA basketball signed by Michael Jordan as a goodwill gift. The North Koreans later asked Jordan if he would make a trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim; Jordan declined.
In 2009, the Washington Post reported that Kim Jong Un inherited his father’s love of the game: Classmates remember a student believed to be Kim (he went to school in Switzerland under a pseudonym)who was "fiercely competitive" on the court, and both "tough and fast."
Here’s the lingering question: Was the exhibition game that Rodman and Kim attended today played by North Korean or NBA rules?
(h/t: NK News)
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.| Passport |
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |