Ex-Knick Charles Smith has ‘remorse’ over North Korea trip
By Zach Braziller, NY Post
January 7, 2014 | 12:53pm
A group of former NBA players led by Dennis Rodman, who traveled to North Korea for a game the day of the country’s controversial leader’s birthday, are having second thoughts.
One of the players, former Knick Charles Smith, told the Associated Press the trip to Pyongyang has been tainted by Rodman’s comments relating to Kim Jong Un, with whom Rodman has developed a friendship, and by criticism from the West. The players — including Smith, local product Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker — are scheduled to face a team of North Koreans on Wednesday, believed to be Kim’s 31st birthday.
“What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it,” Smith, best known for failing to convert a sequence of layups in the final seconds of the Knicks’ Game 5 loss in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals against the Bulls, told the AP. “Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us, and I think that has to do with politics and government.”
Smith said when he represented the United States in the World Games in 1998 he felt elation, but feels the “reverse” now.
“I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it’s a lot bigger than us,” he said. “We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are. We can’t do anything about that. If we could we would.”
The game would be latest milestone in the surprising relationship between Rodman and Kim, who rarely meets with outsiders and is one of the world’s most mysterious leaders. Rodman has said the game is a “birthday present” for Kim. However, he claims to have received death threats for his visits to this country and for calling Kim a “friend for life.”
The game has received criticism because of North Korea’s human-rights record, its development of nuclear weapons and the threat to deploy those weapons if conflict breaks out.
Some believe Rodman, the tattooed former NBA bad boy and five-time NBA champion with the Pistons and Bulls, should use his influence with Kim to free American missionary Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea on charges of “anti-state” crimes.
Asked in a CNN satellite interview on Tuesday if he would raise the issue of Bae, Rodman responded, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think. … One day this door is going to open because of these 10 guys here.”
“The way some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts,” Smith said. “Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern has distanced himself and the NBA from Rodman’s team.
“The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman’s North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department,” Stern said in a statement. “Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them.”
Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power following the 2011 death of his father Kim Jong Il.