Ex-NBA player says N. Korea game dwarfed by politics

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PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Former NBA star Charles D. Smith says he feels remorse for coming to Pyongyang with Dennis Rodman for a game on the North Korean leader's birthday because the event has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Mr. Rodman's comments.

Mr. Smith, a former University of Pittsburgh star and New York Knicks forward who is now executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, and other former NBA players are scheduled to play today with Mr. Rodman against a North Korean team in a game that organizers say leader Kim Jong Un is expected to attend. Many of the American players privately expressed second thoughts Tuesday about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home in the United States.

Mr. Smith said the North Korea trip has been dwarfed by politics and Mr. Rodman's frequent boasts about his close friendship with Mr. Kim.

"What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it," he said in an interview. "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."

Mr. Rodman arrived Monday in Pyongyang with seven former NBA players and four streetballers for the game on Mr. Kim's birthday, believed to be his 31st. Along with Mr. Smith, the squad features ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker.

The game would be another milestone in Mr. Rodman's surprising relationship with Mr. Kim, a basketball fan who rarely meets outsiders and is possibly the world's most mysterious leader. Mr. Rodman has called the game a "birthday present" for the North's leader, but says he has received death threats for repeat visits to the country and for calling Mr. Kim a "friend for life."

"[In a] way, some of the statements and things that Dennis has said [have] tainted our efforts," Mr. 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."

The White House on Tuesday said it would not have approved Mr. Rodman's latest North Korea visit if it had a say in the matter. Spokesman Jay Carney said the trip is seen as private travel, not subject to government review.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has distanced his organization from Mr. Rodman's squad.

"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," he said in a statement.

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