Basketball in North Korea is a big deal, at least from a leadership point of view! During the funeral of General Kim Jong Il many people noted an unusually tall person in the crowd sporting a KPA uniform. Some (probably the Daily Mail) even suggested that it was photoshopped or whatever. In fact, the tall gentleman in question was the most famous North Korean basketballer of all time – we’ll get to him later.
Why is basketball in North Korea popular?
Basketball is a popular sport in North Korea, and thus comes right from the top. General Kim Jong Il was a notoriously fervent fan of the NBA, and in particular Michael Jordon, with Madeline Albright famously gifting him a signed basketball.
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, in this particular regard, and current leader, Marshal Kim Jong Un, has also expressed his admiration of the sport.
Rodman and basketball in North Korea
This culminated in Michael Spavor of Paektu Cultural Exchange and Joe Terwillinger famously helping lead the first trip for Dennis Rodman visiting North Korea, playing an exhibition game, and by all accounts developing a fond friendship with the Premier of the DPRK that continues to this day.
Check out this link for the “Big Bang in Pyongyang” for more details.
When leaders of countries like a sport it often leads to more investment on a local level, with countries wanting to emulate their idols, and in some respects this has happened with North Korean basketball.
Most famous basketball player in North Korea?
The aforementioned tall fella Ri Myung-Hun is the most famous basketball player ever to be produced by the DPRK. At 7’8 he is not only believed to be the tallest person in North Korea, but was such a local force at basketball that he was even touted to play in the NBA. Alas, the myriad world of sanctions and relations between the USA and DPR Korea put paid to that, which is a shame as many football/soccer players from North Korea have been great successes abroad.
How good is the North Korean national team?
The North Korean national basketball team regularly compete internationally, and whilst they have had what can only be called limited success, at their peak they managed to come runners-up in the 1993 Asian Basketball Confederation Championships in Indonesia.
The current North Korean roster is pretty strong, with there being many players approaching 7 foot in their squad, despite the reputation for North Koreans being on the shorter side.
What the future holds for North Korean basketball is anyone’s guess, but with the friendship between Dennis Rodman, Donald Trump, and the North Korean regime, seeing a North Korean lighting up the NBA is not nearly as fanciful as it might sound.
Check out the DPRK’s basketball scene yourself on one of the many tours we run there!