The Kims’ long love affair with basketball

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 ...

VICE Magazine
VICE Magazine
VICE Magazine

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.

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)

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon. Twitter: @APQW

Tag: Sports

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