The Kims' long love affair with basketball

By now, you probably know that North Korea's Kim Jong Un is a "die-hard basketball fan" who told former Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman he had a "friend for life" in the Hermit Kingdom. (VICE magazine has just released photos, including the one above, of Rodman and Kim taking in a basketball game between members of the Harlem Globetrotters and North Korea's "Dream Team" in Pyongyang.)

But being a "die-hard fan" can mean something different when you're the supreme leader of a country, and both Kim and his father Kim Jong Il -- also a legendary NBA enthusiast -- have taken their basketball fandom to impressive heights in the decades they've controlled North Korea. For an excellent primer on the special relationship between the Kim family and the NBA, see this 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune article. Some choice bits from the piece:

  • Kim Jong Il is believed to have installed regulation basketball courts at most of his palaces, and a library with videos of almost every game Michael Jordan ever played for the Bulls.
  • Chinese media report that North Korea has developed its own scoring system for the game: three points for a dunk, four points for a three pointer that doesn't touch the rim, and eight points for a basket scored in the final three seconds. (This rule is ... intriguing? The endings of North Korean basketball games must be cutthroat!) A missed free throw means minus-one point.
  • Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000 brought Kim Jong Il an NBA basketball signed by Michael Jordan as a goodwill gift. The North Koreans later asked Jordan if he would make a trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim; Jordan declined.

In 2009, the Washington Post reported that Kim Jong Un inherited his father's love of the game: Classmates remember a student believed to be Kim (he went to school in Switzerland under a pseudonym)who  was "fiercely competitive" on the court, and both "tough and fast."

Here's the lingering question: Was the exhibition game that Rodman and Kim attended today played by North Korean or NBA rules?

(h/t: NK News)

VICE Magazine


Adieu, Stéphane

Stéphane Hessel, the French author and activist who was among FP's Global Thinkers in 2011 -- our oldest thinker yet, but no less spirited for it -- died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 95. Hessel's is a remarkable life story: He was raised in Paris by parents who counted Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder as friends, joined the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II, was imprisoned in Buchenwald, and ultimately escaped being hanged by swapping identities with a soldier who had died of typhoid fever. Later in life, as a young diplomat, he helped Eleanor Roosevelt draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But it was at the age of 93, as the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring made their way across the world, that a little red book, just some 30 pages, earned Hessel international fame. His Indignez-vous! (the English version was published in 2011 as Time for Outrage!) was, as we wrote at the time, "an old lefty's impassioned cri de coeur against a society that has forgotten the postwar values of tolerance and social responsibility," and it caught the attention of exasperated protesters worldwide, from los indignados in Spain to the drum circlers of Zuccotti Park. Pausing at the "last leg of my journey," Hessel urged the world's youth to carry on the agitating spirit of the Resistance, fighting what he called the "international dictatorship of financial markets." "Here is our message," Hessel declared, "It's time to take over! It's time to get angry! Politicians, economists, intellectuals, do not surrender!"

In 2011, when we asked Hessel who the best muse is for our times, his reply was Calliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry. Somewhat fitting for a man whose language stirred millions.