Former NBA star Dennis Rodman openly wept on television in a live interview from Singapore as President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met for the first time.
The eccentric former reality television star is one of the few westerners to have spent time with Kim during multiple visits to Pyongyang and the two struck up an unlikely friendship over their shared love of basketball.
Rodman also goes back years with Trump and appeared on his Celebrity Apprentice show.
In an emotional interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Rodman, wearing sunglasses and a “Make America Great Again” hat, said he had received a call from the White House ahead of Trump’s historic meeting with Kim – the first between a sitting president and North Korean leader.
“Yes, Donald Trump reached out,” Rodman said, telling Cuomo he’d received a call from a person he described as Trump’s secretary.
“She called me and said, ‘Dennis, Donald Trump is so proud of you. He thanks you a lot.’ And that means a lot,” said Rodman.
He added that he suspected he “somewhat had something to do with this North Korean situation.”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the call.
Rodman grew emotional in the interview as he recalled former President Barack Obama failing to take him seriously when he returned from Pyongyang with a message from Kim after one of his trips.
Rodman said Obama “just brushed me off” and “didn’t even give me the time of day.”
He expressed hope that Trump and Kim would be able to make progress.
“We don’t need a miracle. We just need the doors to be opened so we can start fresh,” he said, telling Cuomo, “it’s a great day” and exclaiming: “I’m so happy!”
Asked to describe Kim, Rodman said the autocratic leader was “like a big kid” who wants to have a good time, but is “trying to protect his people” and his honour.
“This guy wants to be around the world. He wants to come to America. He wants to enjoy his life. He wants his people to enjoy this life,” said Rodman, adding that Kim is “not a dumb man”.
White House officials have said that Rodman would play no official role in the diplomatic negotiations.
Last week, Trump told reporters that Rodman had not been invited to the summit, but praised him as a “nice guy” and great rebounder.
Rodman told reporters at Changi airport that he’d travelled to Singapore “to see what’s going on” and that he hoped “that things turn out to be well for everyone in the world.”
Asked if he would meet Kim in Singapore, he said he thought the North Korean leader had “bigger things to worry about”, but added that every time he’d met with Kim, it had been a surprise.
Rodman‘s trip was sponsored by PotCoin, a cryptocurrency company that gives marijuana businesses access to banking as an alternative to many financial institutions that will not do business with cannabis companies because marijuana is illegal under US federal law.
In 2014, Trump tweeted dismissively about the possibility that he and Rodman would someday travel to North Korea together.
“Dennis Rodman was either drunk or on drugs (delusional) when he said I wanted to go to North Korea with him. Glad I fired him on Apprentice!” Trump wrote.