Steve Kerr, Kim Jong-un Basketball Game Suggested to Barack Obama in 2012 Meeting

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVDecember 20, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04:  U.S. President Barack Obama (L) jokes with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr (R) during an event with the team in the East Room of the White House on February 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama welcomed the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to the White House to congratulate the team on their championship season.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

When the United States needed a way in to begin talks with Kim Jong-un in 2012, a plan was proposed to then-President Barack Obama to have Steve Kerr play the North Korean leader in basketball.

Economist Marcus Noland suggested the idea to Obama, per Alex Schiffer of The Athletic, noting that Kim was a big Chicago Bulls fan.

"We have to work with what we’ve got," Noland told Obama. "If this guy is really as big of a Chicago Bulls fan as we hear, let’s work with that, because we have nothing else to go on."

Before excelling as a coach with the Golden State Warriors, Kerr won five NBA titles as a player including three with the Bulls. 

Noland suggested Kerr could play HORSE or a game of one-on-one against Kim, decided by the North Korean leader who had just taken control six months earlier.

"The game would be intended to improve relations between the U.S. and Kim, North Korea’s new supreme leader, who would get to meet one of his heroes and maybe gain a positive first impression of Barack Obama’s administration," Schiffer wrote.

Government officials never moved forward with this plan, although former Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman eventually traveled to North Korea in 2018 and developed a friendship with Kim. 

Kerr, meanwhile, didn't hear of the plan involving him until nine years later when he was told earlier this month. 

"No. No way," Kerr said of whether he would have agreed. "Unless President Obama himself asked me to do it. If he had asked me to do it, I would have done it."

The former guard also joked he wouldn't take it easy on the proposed opponent.

"I’m going all out because it doesn’t matter," Kerr said. "Because the report in the international media would have been that he skunked me. I know [his father] made a birdie on every round of his golf score that one time. So he would have destroyed me in HORSE, too."

Kerr is still outspoken on political issues, but it seems he missed out on an opportunity to play an active role in diplomatic relations.