Upon return from the trip, Smith talked about the trip with CNN. While Rodman’s agent said the players were not paid any money by the North Korean government, Smith revealed a little more details.
Speaking by satellite from Beijing, Smith said it wasn’t about the money. He saw it as an opportunity to go to a reclusive country and exchange cultural information with other athletes and citizens. But he didn’t see it as a birthday present for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“That’s the date that was set. I didn’t know it was his birthday,” he said in the half-hour interview. “And it didn’t matter to me once I found out that it was his birthday.”
Smith said he felt for Rodman, who asked for his help organizing the trip and who really seemed to want to pull off a big event.
“I saw the pressure mount. I saw him change, and it was very difficult keeping him and everyone together (once controversy began over traveling to North Korea),” he said.
When asked about how much the players were eventually paid for this trip, Smith didn’t disclose the exact sum.
“Absolutely, we were paid. Not as much as we usually get paid for working with me or my group, but yes, we were paid. So if anyone has an issue with us being compensated, that’s absurd,” he said.
“Why should I mention how much we were paid? It’s not anyone’s business how much we were paid. There’s no reason for me to answer that,” Smith said.
Smith, who retired from the NBA in 1997 after nine seasons, said an Irish online betting company and a documentary film crew paid expenses for the players.
“About who compensated us – Paddy Power, along with out documentary film crew paid for the expenses of the trip. Now, when I say it wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t. It was about the trip,” Smith said. “I had an opportunity to go somewhere, to a recluse country that no one goes to. We were invited by the Olympic Committee from North Korea, which assured our save passage in and out, which they did. And it was all an experience, judging from the information we saw and gathered.”
Smith said the difference between this trip and other sports exchanges was that the players weren’t sent as representatives of the United States.
“We’re athletes doing it ourselves,” he said, adding that he had no regrets about the trip itself.
“I have no regrets at all. I think I’ve spent most of my time there with a gentleman, who I believe was a sports minister there in North Korea, we shared a lot of stories of how they train there and a lot of different things. So I believe in the future there will be positive outcomes from this,” he said.
He said he was able to meet some North Korean citizens and even came across one man who winced before shaking the hand of the first African-American he had ever met. Smith said the man told him they didn’t have a very good view of African-Americans.
The man rubbed his hand as if the color would come off, Smith said.
“Then the next day after we talked for a while, he came up to me and said he was sorry,” Smith said.
The former NBA player, who now travels frequently as a basketball ambassador, said he didn’t go to any areas where people are hungry.
“We accomplished a relationship on the sports side in North Korea,” he said. “Where it goes from there, I do not know at this point in time. But we established a relationship. They’ve asked us to come back. Whether we go back or not, I’m not sure. I don’t know. But there was a relationship established between a group of individuals in two different countries that don’t communicate.”
Smith said that he would like to discuss the “North Korean issues” live at some point, along with the country’s “economic strategies” and “cultural experiences”.
Smith was one of a number of former NBA players to have travelled to North Korea for the game, other players included Kenny Anderson, Vin Baker, Clifford Robinson, Doug Christie, and Dennis Rodman himself. Smith played 10 years in the NBA, for LA Clippers, NY Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. He appeared in total of 564 NBA games (419 started), averaging 14.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 1.4 bpg in 29 minutes on the court.Follow @exnbadotcom
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