Former NBA star Charles D. Smith enters an elevator at a hotel in Pyongyang. David Guttenfelder, AP
BEIJING (USA TODAY) -- As Dennis Rodman continued his controversial "basketball
diplomacy" inside North Korea Friday, his U.S. teammates at an
exhibition game Wednesday flew out of Pyongyang praising their trip and
declaring "mission accomplished."
"On behalf of all the players
that went on the trip, it's probably best to say that we set out on a
mission to use basketball as a bridge for cultural exchange and we
accomplished that mission," said Charles Smith at Beijing airport
Earlier this week, the former New York Knicks forward
expressed "remorse for the guys" at the way their trip, criticized back
in the USA, was being "dwarfed" by politics, and admitted that some of
Rodman's words and actions "tainted our efforts".
Smith dismissed the suggestion that any schism had developed between him and Rodman.
is a friend," Smith said Friday. "We have known each other intimately
for three-and-a-half years. We don't have any division. That won't
Rodman apologized Thursday for widely-criticized comments Tuesday about Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea.
STORY: Rodman apologizes, then apparently hits ski slopes
RELATED: Sister of N. Korea prisoner says Rodman hurting case
blamed his remarks on stress and drinking. "Some of my teammates were
leaving because of pressure from their families and business
associates," he said in a statement. "My dreams of basketball diplomacy
was quickly falling apart."
But the game went ahead, in the presence of North Korean dictator,
and Rodman's "best friend", Kim Jong Un, who shook hands after the game
with the U.S. players. Those players wore medals given by their Korean
hosts, according to footage on North Korean state television.
MORE: Happy Birthday, Mr. Dictator: Rodman sings for Kim
sounded far more positive Friday. "We were in North Korea with
tourists, with other Americans and our documentary film crew and all of
us agree that the trip was just simply incredible," he said. "I had a
chance to meet with some of the leadership there," said Smith, who
promised he would speak soon "about some North Korean issues, their
economic strategies, and some of the cultural experiences we had
Smith said he had, "No regrets about the trip whatsoever."
of the other players refused to make additional comments, but a few
praised their trip. "It was a great experience," said Antwan Scott, a
former Harlem Globetrotter. "I would go back definitely," he said.
"It was amazing," agreed ex-NBA player Doug Christie, who declined to indicate if he would take his wife Jackie, a Basketball Wives TV star, to the highly isolated and impoverished nation.
remained in North Korea Friday, on his fourth trip there in under a
year. No other foreign citizen is known to have enjoyed such regular
access to the young, reclusive leader of North Korea's repressive
Rodman was reported to have visited Kim's newly built ski
resort on North Korea's east coast Thursday. State media have praised
Rodman's visit, which the U.S. government has stressed enjoys no
official backing from Washington.
Kim, "welcomed the American
basketball players' visit to the DPRK and said that the game served as a
good occasion in promoting the understanding between the peoples of the
two countries," the official KCNA news agency reported.
Rodmansang 'happy birthday' before Wednesday's game, which he called a gift
for Kim's birthday. The song reflected "his reverence for Kim Jong Un,
touching the spectators," said KCNA.
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