Beyond Adolph Hitler being a unanimous #1, you really can’t rate these guys, Idi Amin, Saddam Huessein, Mohammar Kadaffi, as to who’s the worst, but in terms of oppressive dictators who have taken their places on the international stage in the past century North Korean’s Kim Jong Un has certainly earned a position among the most despicable members of this hall of shame.

At first there was something slightly humorous about former NBA bad apple Dennis Rodman establishing a friendship with the cartoonish figure who treats his people as his personal playthings, there just for his own entertainment, frequently torturing them in unimaginably hideous fashion.  Any hint of humor to the “best friends forever” relationship between Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un was eradicated with the realization that Rodman was serious about this, serious in his message that the world has a wrongheaded view of “Little Kim”.  It became tragic as one could only question Rodman’s sanity.

Of course, Kim wasn’t going to show Dennis the dark side on his trips to North Korea, he was there to talk basketball and embrace for the cameras.  This week the relationship reached a new low, going from tragic to sick when Rodman brought a contingent of 10 former NBA players with him to North Korea to play in an exhibition game to celebrate Kim’s birthday.  Challenged about his understanding of just who Kim is, Rodman went on an eight minute incoherent rant, constantly rejecting efforts from someone off camera who was trying to save him from himself.

This story leaves me personally heartsick.  I know most of the players who accompanied Rodman have fallen on hard times of one sort or another, financially or emotionally, since leaving the NBA and there is, I am sure, a substantial payday involved.  It’s heartbreaking to think that Charles Smith, the quiet, respectful kid from Bridgeport with immense talent, who led Warren Harding High School to the first WTIC high school basketball state championship, has become a party to this.  Of those who made the trip Smith was the first to come to his senses, realizing that “Some of the things Dennis has said have tainted” the efforts of the others.

My first memory of Cliff Robinson is when then UCONN basketball coach Dom Perno introduced me to him in the old Storrs Field House when he made his recruiting visit to Storrs.  Cliff needed some coaxing at the academic end, but the pleasant, shy kid from Buffalo eventually became Jim Calhoun’s first NBA success story at UCONN, going on to a long, well deserved career.

Most heartbreaking of all, for me personally, is Vin Baker, the likeable young man from Old Saybrook, where he was a member of the church choir well into his pro career, whom I’ve become very friendly with over the years, having M.C.’d many of his Presidential Golf Tournaments at the University of Hartford.  A wonderful young man who brought national prominence to his university, Vin fell victim to a demon, eventually drinking his way out of the NBA while losing his hometown restaurant business.

It’s a tragic by product of this story that these former players, once young men with unlimited futures, have reached this juncture in their lives, following such an ill advised, wrong minded influence as Dennis Rodman.  NBA Commissioner David Stern summed up this venture best when he disavowed any league involvement in the trip, saying, “There are many instances in which sports can be helpful in bridging cultural divides.  This is not one of them.”

To that I can only say, amen.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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