Dennis Rodman, one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history and a five-time NBA champion, 61, has disclosed plans to travel to Russia and request the release of Brittney Griner, 31, following the sentencing of the WNBA player and two-time Olympic gold medalist to nine years in prison for drug possession charges.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl. I’m trying to go this week,” Rodman stated to NBC News at a restaurant in D.C. “I know Putin too well,” Rodman added. In spite of sanctions and a travel advisory imposed by the U.S. against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, Rodman does not need a permission from the U.S. to travel to Russia. He will only need a Russian visa.
Indeed, the State Department is strongly discouraging American citizens from visiting the country and has issued the corresponding travel advisory. “Do not travel to Russia,” the State Department urges, pointing to many possible risks, including “the unprovoked and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine,” “potential harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and the possibility of “unwarranted detention.”
A visit by Rodman to Russia will not be the first instance of him engaging in informal diplomacy with an international leader who has a tense relationship with the United States. The former Chicago Bulls star has sort of become an unofficial diplomat throughout the years, building friendships with international leaders known to have tense relations with the U.S.
Over the last few years, Rodman famously made several visits to North Korea. He described Kim Jong-un as a friend and a “very good guy”. He met with both Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump while on a visit to Singapore in 2018. After meeting the Russian leader in 2014 Rodman described Vladimir Putin as a “cool guy”. According to the reports in the media, the meeting was strictly for sports reasons. “I’m not a politician, I’m just a basketball ambassador. That’s it,” Rodman declared in regard to the meeting in 2014, said NBC News.
According to a senior Biden administration official, it is likely that Rodman will make it worse rather than help this time. “It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” the official stated. The United States has imposed severe sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and is helping Ukrainian forces.
As a result of Griner’s imprisonment, tensions between the two countries are at an all-time high – and diplomacy could be a possibility in the future. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said he was optimistic about the prospects for an eventual prisoner swap that would lead to Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, being returned to the United States.
Griner’s imprisonment has prompted a national uproar for her release. The U.S. proposal to Russia entailed an exchange of Griner and Whelan for imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.