Rodman: North Korea wants Obama to call
WASHINGTON— Call me? Maybe?
North Korea’s young leader has riled the U.S. with recent nuclear tests, but Kim Jong Un doesn’t really want war with the superpower, just a call from President Barack Obama to chat about their shared love of basketball, according to ersatz diplomat Dennis Rodman, the ex-NBA star just back from an improbable visit to the reclusive communist country.
“He loves basketball. ... I said Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there” as a way to warm up relations between U.S. and North Korea, Rodman told ABC’s “This Week.”
“He asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He wants Obama to do one thing, call him,” said Rodman, who called the authoritarian leader an “awesome guy” during his trip. The State Department criticized North Korea last week for “wining and dining’ Rodman while its own people go hungry.
Rodman also said Kim told him, “I don’t want to do war. I don’t want to do war.”
Yet in January, after the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn the North’s successful rocket launch in December and expand penalties against Kim’s government, his National Defense Commission said in a statement that “settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words.” The statement also promised “a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century.”
North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes technically remain at war. They never signed a peace treaty and do not have diplomatic relations.
Rodman was the highest-profile American to meet Kim since Kim inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011. He traveled to the secretive state with the Harlem Globetrotters team for a new HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.
The visit took place amid rising tensions between the countries.
North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a “hostile” policy toward the North.
Rodman said he was aware of North Korea’s human rights record, which the State Department has characterized as one of the worst in the world, but said he wasn’t apologizing for Kim.
“He’s a good guy to me,” Rodman said, adding, that “as a person to person, he’s my friend. I don’t condone what he does.”
Basketball is popular in North Korea, and Thursday’s exhibition game with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans ended in a 110-110 tie. Following the game Kim threw an “epic feast” for the group, plying them with food and drinks and making round after round of toasts.
Rodman’s trip was the second attention-grabbing American visit this year to North Korea. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January, but did not meet Kim.
Rodman said he planned to go back to North Korea to “find out more what’s really going on.”
UCF working on new deal for O’Leary
ORLANDO, Fla. — Central Florida is working on a two-year contract extension for football coach George O’Leary that would keep him under contract through the 2017 season.
Athletic director Todd Stansbury confirmed through a spokesman the deal is expected to be completed soon.
O’Leary signed a 10-year contract in 2006 that is set to end following the 2015 season. He is making just shy of $1 million a year, although bonus incentives can push the figure to $1.5 million.
The 66-year-old coach has guided the Knights to their first bowl appearance and bowl victories. He also helped spur construction of the on-campus football stadium.
The Knights are to join the Big East Conference next season.
Flyers’ Zolnierczyk suspended four games
NEW YORK — The NHL has suspended Philadelphia Flyers forward Harry Zolnierczyk four games for charging Ottawa defenseman Mike Lundin.
Lundin suffered a concussion.
The play happened Saturday midway through the first period of the Flyers’ 2-1 win. Zolnierczyk launched himself into Lundin as the Ottawa forward was cutting into the Flyers’ zone.
Zolnierczyk received a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct on the play. He will be fined just under $13,000.
Malkin back practicing with Penguins
PITTSBURGH — Still headache-free and with his short-term memory completely returned, Evgeni Malkin went through a full-contact practice with many of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Sunday.
Malkin, who has missed the past four games due to a concussion, said he “felt pretty good” immediately after the workout at a suburban rink.
Coach Dan Bylsma said the next step was for Malkin to pass an imPACT test. The team did not rule out a return Monday when the Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Malkin indicated he’d prefer more time.
Malkin was speaking to the media for the first time since he was injured colliding with the boards during a win over Florida on Feb. 22. He has skated on his own twice since.
Nicklaus: McIlroy will ‘be fine’ by Masters
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Jack Nicklaus says there’s no reason to be alarmed: Rory McIlroy is probably frustrated with his game and his adjustment to new equipment.
McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world and defending champion at the Honda Classic, caused a stir this week when he walked off the course after eight holes at PGA National when he was 7 over for the second round. He told reporters he was “not in a good place mentally,” and an hour later issued a statement attributing his withdrawal to a sore wisdom tooth.
He signed with Nike during the offseason. In three starts this year, McIlroy has missed the cut, lost in the opening round of the Match Play Championship and withdrew from the Honda Classic after 26 holes.
“Rory is so talented,” Nicklaus said during a visit to the NBC Sports booth at the Honda Classic. “He’s a good kid. I think he’s a little frustrated, and he’s frustrated at himself right now. He’s probably not playing his best, and he also has a set of golf clubs that he’s having trouble getting used to, and one sort of plays off the other. He’ll be fine. When Augusta rolls around, he’ll be fine.”
McIlroy plays out of The Bear’s Club, which Nicklaus built as his home club for South Florida. The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland seeks advice from Nicklaus whenever he sees him. Nicklaus said he last spoke to McIlroy last Monday.
Johnny Miller, the NBC analyst and two-time major champion, said McIlroy should not have walked off the course in the middle of the round.
“John, if he had waited five more minutes he wouldn’t have done that,” Nicklaus replied. “I think he’s a good kid. He tries to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that probably wasn’t that time.”