WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former basketball star Dennis Rodman said on Friday he was willing to trade places with Kenneth Bae, an American missionary imprisoned in North Korea, the next time he visits his friend, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Rodman, in a live interview with CNN from a substance abuse rehabilitation facility in the New York City area, said he felt sympathy for Bae’s family.
Earlier this month, an agitated, drunken Rodman gave an interview with CNN from North Korea in which he suggested that Bae was responsible for his imprisonment.
Rodman, who has made four trips to North Korea, said he knew nothing of Bae’s case when he first mentioned him – and still does not.
“I have sympathy – I don’t want anyone in any country or anywhere in the world to be hostage for something maybe they did or did not do,” Rodman said in Friday’s interview.
“I would do anything … if they said, ‘We’ll take Dennis Rodman and we’ll let Kenneth Bae go’, you know what? I’d do that, straight ahead. Take me. I would do that.”
He also offered to take his CNN interviewer, Chris Cuomo, to North Korea with him.
Bae was detained in North Korea in 2012 while leading a tour group and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for subversion.
Rodman was one of the National Basketball Association’s top rebounders during his 1986-2000 career and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.
He played for five teams and his flamboyant personality, tattoos, body piercings and multi-colored hair at times outshone his skills.
On his January trip Rodman took a contingent of other former NBA players for an exhibition game in Pyongyang. He sang “Happy Birthday” at a celebration marking the 31st birthday of Kim, who he called his best friend and a great leader.
Rodman checked into the rehab center shortly after returning from North Korea earlier this month.
(Reporting by Bill Trott; Editing by Sophie Hares)