Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman is followed by journalists as he arrives at the Capital International Airport in Beijing from Pyongyang, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. A squad of former basketball stars led by Rodman had a friendly game with North Korean basketball players in Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
Dennis Rodman lashed out at his critics during an interview with CNN Tuesday, angrily defending his current trip to North Korea with a team of former NBA players for an exhibition game in the wake of the reported execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, and amid the ongoing detention of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae.
Speaking from Pyongyang, Rodman praised the players who came with him to North Korea, saying the game — scheduled for Wednesday, thought to be Kim Jong Un's 31st birthday — is a "great idea for the world."
"It's all about the game," the 52-year-old Rodman said. "People love to do one thing. This is what we are trying to do."
Referring to Kim, Rodman said, "I love my friend. This is my friend."
But when CNN's Chris Cuomo pressed Rodman on the issue of Bae's year-long detention, the former NBA star blew up.
"I don't give a rat's a-- what the hell you think," Rodman said. "You are the guy behind the mic right now ... we are the guys who have to go back to America and take the abuse."
Rodman appeared to suggest he knew what Bae is being held for, but would not reveal the charge.
"Kenneth Bae did one thing, if you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did, do you understand what he did in this country?" Rodman asked.
"What did he do?" Cuomo responded.
"No, no, no, no! You tell me! You tell me!" Rodman shouted, pointing his finger at the camera. "Why is he held captive?"
Charles Smith, one of the former NBA players on the trip with Rodman, said he was surprised by the "negative spin" critics have placed on what he called "basketball diplomacy."
"We're not politicians, we're not ambassadors," Smith said. "We're here to do what we've been doing most of our lives."
It's not the first controversial trip to North Korea for Rodman. Last February, Rodman traveled to North Korea with the Harlem Globetrotters for an exhibition game that was watched by Kim. Rodman later met and dined with the mysterious leader, telling Kim he had "a friend for life." Rodman made two subsequent visits.
Earlier, Smith said of Rodman: "Guy’s got a great heart. His passion is about children and families. That's why we're here."
"It's amazing how we strive on negativity," Rodman said. "And all of a sudden we’re like, this guy, this guy, this leader, [does] anyone notice — anyone know that this guy is only 31 years old?"
Cuomo countered: "Hey, Dennis, he could be 31. He could be 51. He just killed his uncle and he's holding an American hostage. The family is desperate for his return. They don't even know why he's being held. It’s been a year, Dennis. This is your friend — the guy you call your friend."