SINGAPORE — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman openly wept on television in a live interview from Singapore on Tuesday as President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met for the first time. He told The Associated Press that he hopes to soon visit the White House.
The eccentric former reality television star is one of the few Westerners to have spent time with Kim during multiple visits to Pyongyang. The two struck up an unlikely friendship over their shared love of basketball. Rodman also goes back years with Trump and appeared on his “Celebrity Apprentice” show.
In an emotional and sometimes hard-to-follow interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Rodman, wearing sunglasses and a “Make America Great Again” hat, said he had received a call from the White House ahead of Trump’s historic meeting with Kim — the first between a sitting president and North Korean leader.
Rodman later told the AP in a phone interview that the call had come from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “She sent her best wishes and said that Donald Trump is really proud of you. He’s happy you’re having some type of part of this whole situation,” Rodman recalled her saying. “He’s very happy to carry out the things I’ve been saying.”
Sanders did not immediately respond to questions about the call.
Rodman suggested he helped lay at least the groundwork for the summit, joking to the AP that he “should be pushing for the Nobel Peace Prize. At least give me a piece of it, something like that. An honorable mention.”
He also said he thought he’d meet with Trump soon. “I’m pretty sure that I’ll be going somewhere, like the White House to meet him,” he said.
In his CNN interview, Rodman grew emotional as he recalled former President Barack Obama failing to take him seriously when he returned from Pyongyang with a message from Kim after one of his trips.
Rodman said that Obama brushed him off and that he’d received death threats and had to go into hiding as a result.
But he jokingly downplayed his televised tears in talking to the AP. “It was just too hot. I was just getting sweaty. Don’t get it twisted,” he said with a laugh.
He expressed hope that Trump and Kim would be able to make progress — but said he believes that “all the pressure is on Donald Trump,” not Kim.
“Trump’s going to be Trump,” he told the AP. “It’s going to be on Donald’s hands and how he’s going to play this. We don’t want this whole summit to come for naught.”
But he appeared to have trouble containing his excitement, telling Cuomo, “It’s a great day” and exclaiming: “I’m so happy!”
Asked to describe Kim, Rodman said the autocratic leader was “like a big kid” who wants to have a good time, but is “trying to protect his people” and his honor.
“This guy wants to be around the world, he wants to come to America, he wants to enjoy his life, he wants his people to enjoy this life,” Rodman said, adding to the AP that “He loves Americans. He wants to come to America and live life. … He really wants to go watch a basketball game.”
White House officials have said that Rodman would play no official role in the diplomatic negotiations. Last week, Trump told reporters that Rodman had not been invited to the summit, but praised him as a “nice guy” and great rebounder.
Rodman’s trip was sponsored by PotCoin, a cryptocurrency company that gives marijuana businesses access to banking as an alternative to many financial institutions that will not do business with cannabis companies because marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law.
In 2014, Trump tweeted dismissively about the possibility that he and Rodman would someday travel to North Korea together.
“Dennis Rodman was either drunk or on drugs (delusional) when he said I wanted to go to North Korea with him. Glad I fired him on Apprentice!” Trump wrote.