James Donaldson was Dennis Rodman before Dennis Rodman.
Let’s try that again.
Donaldson is a former NBA veteran big man, a center to Rodman’s power forward, and Donaldson in November became one of the very few Americans to visit North Korea, just as Rodman did last week. Those Donaldson-Rodman similarities.
Without the same publicity or access to top officials, Donaldson travelled to Pyongyang as part of the delegation with Global Resource Services, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization with a history of going to the Hermit Kingdom on humanitarian missions. He did not meet with Kim Jong Un in a prequel to the attention-getting gathering with Rodman and the North Korean leader reported to love basketball.
“It would’ve been great to meet with Leader Kim as Rodman did, but that’s okay, we met with a lot of government officials, so I’m sure that he was aware of our visit,” Donaldson wrote in an e-mail from China.
Rodman’s visit to North Korea and the verbal embrace of Kim despite a horrible human-rights record continued to generate attention Monday, all the way to the White House getting questions about the Hall of Famer (North Korea should worry about the well-being of its citizens and not “celebrity sporting events,” spokesman Jay Carney replied. Meanwhile, Steve Ganyard, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and current ABC News consultant, told the network that “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary.”
As Donaldson related: “Many of my Chinese friends here in China point out that the perceptions and stereotypes that we (Americans and the Western world) have of North Korea are eerily similar to the perceptions and stereotypes that Americans had of China 30 or 40 years ago when China was a closed society and was going through its own efforts to bring its people out of poverty and become a global economy. There was the same name calling and saber rattling between the United States and China (and vice versa) that is now going on between the United States and North Korea (and vice versa).
And it wasn’t until some serious diplomatic/international relationship building efforts by the likes of Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon in the 1970s that things began to improve and change between the two countries. Perhaps, that’s what it will take to thaw some of the frozen diplomatic/economic/political/ international relations between the United States and North Korea.
“So from my vantage point of being in one of the few Americans ever to step foot in North Korea, and to actually engage in meaningful meetings with sports/economic/cultural development officials from North Korea, along with being part of a delegation that has tremendous knowledge about North Korea (Global Resource Services), I believe that there will be a tremendous amount of good that will come from Dennis Rodman’s recent trip to North Korea. In general, our media and political leaders don’t have anything good to say about North Korea (or at least choose not to say anything good), and Rodman has come back from North Korea with nothing but the message of peace, friendship and love. There’s not much bad you can say about that.”
He added in the e-mail that “I feel that Rodman’s glowing praise of Leader Kim was genuine and from the heart. Rodman actually had a chance to share a meal with him, have actual conversation with him, attend a basketball game with him and probably get to know him a little more ‘as a person’ than any of us have ever had an opportunity to do. So, if Rodman says that ‘a friendship’ has developed, then we should be okay with that and perhaps even see an opportunity to develop even better relationships with North Korea in general. I know it’s a little unconventional, and typically/traditionally not how we go about with international relationship building and diplomacy. But this is a new age in which the world is more closely tied together than ever before.”
Donaldson – a 7-foot-2 center who played 14 seasons with the SuperSonics, Clippers, Mavericks, Knicks and Jazz before retiring in 1995 – said he hopes to return to North Korea.