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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 Rodman's own comments.
Smith and other former NBA players are scheduled to play with Rodman against a team of North Koreans in a game on Wednesday that organizers say leader Kim Jong Un is expected to attend. Many of the players on Tuesday privately expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism in the United States.
Smith, who played for the New York Knicks, said the North Korea trip has been dwarfed by politics and Rodman's frequent boasts about his close friendship with Kim.
"What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it," Smith told The Associated Press. "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."
|Charles Smith says an exhibition game slated to be played in North Korea has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Dennis Rodman's boastful comments.|
Rodman became enraged during a CNN interview Tuesday when asked about whether he would raise the issue of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been detained in North Korea since May on charges of "anti-state" crimes, to Kim.
"Kenneth Bae did one thing ... if you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this," Rodman told CNN's Chris Cuomo while pointing at the camera.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. remains gravely concerned about Bae's health and is ready to send the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to seek his release if Pyongyang reinstates an invitation that was withdrawn in August. Psaki declined to say whether Rodman's visit was complicating those diplomatic efforts.
Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with seven former NBA players and four streetballers for the game on Kim's birthday, believed to be his 31st. Along with Smith, the squad features ex-All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker.
The game would be another milestone in Rodman's surprising relationship with basketball fan Kim, who rarely meets with outsiders and is possibly the world's most mysterious leader. Rodman has called the game a "birthday present" for Kim but says he has received death threats for his repeated visits to this country and for calling Kim a "friend for life."
"Some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts," 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."
NBA commissioner David Stern has distanced the league from 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," Stern said in a statement. "Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them."
The National Basketball Retired Players Association also denounced the game.
"While we support international goodwill and diplomacy in instances deemed appropriate by our board of directors, it is important to clarify that the trip to North Korea led by Dennis Rodman and others was not sanctioned by the NBRPA and is not supported by our organization in any way," said NBRPA chairman of the board Otis Birdsong, a four-time NBA All-Star. "Under the right circumstances basketball can serve as a bridge to bring communities together, but these are not those circumstances. Standing alongside our partners at the NBA, we do not condone the basketball activities to be conducted in North Korea this week."
Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011. He traveled to North Korea for the first time last February and returned just before Christmas to hold tryouts for the North Korean team, though he did not meet with Kim then.
The plan to hold the game has been criticized because of North Korea's human rights record, its development of nuclear weapons and its threats to use them if a conflict breaks out with Washington or Seoul.
"I feel bad for Dennis, I feel bad for the players," Smith said, adding that when he played for the United States in the World Games in 1998 he felt elation.
"I felt huge, I felt on top of the world. But I feel the reverse now," he said. "I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it's a lot bigger than us. We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are. We can't do anything about that; if we could, we would.
"We're not skilled in those particular areas," he added. "Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.