Dennis Rodman tells North Korea’s leader he has ‘friend for life’


dennis-rodman-hands-upEx-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later dining and drinking with him at his palace, Reuters reported.

”You have a friend for life,” Rodman told Kim before a crowd of thousands at a gymnasium where they sat side by side, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play on mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

Rodman arrived in North Korea to film a television documentary on Tuesday with representatives of the Harlem Globetrotters celebrity team.

A day later on Wednesday, North Korea’s official news agency reported that Rodman along with the Globetrotters held a joint practice with North Korean players.

“Basketball players of the DPRK and the U.S. conducted joint training in Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium here on Wednesday. Participating in it were U-18 players of the DPRK and ex-player of the NBA of the U.S. Dennis Rodman and his party,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a brief report yesterday.

The unlikely encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet Kim since the young North Korean leader took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop of tension between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just 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.

Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told the former Chicago Bulls star he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, VICE founder Shane Smith said.

Dressed in a blue Mao suit, Kim laughed and slapped his hands on the table before him during the game as he sat nearly knee to knee with Rodman.

Rodman, the man who once turned up in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography, wore a dark suit and dark sunglasses, but still had on his nose rings and other piercings.

The two chatted in English, but Kim primarily spoke in Korean through a translator, Smith said after speaking to the VICE crew in Pyongyang.

”They bonded during the game,” Smith said by telephone from New York after speaking to the crew. ”They were both enjoying the crazy shots, and the Harlem Globetrotters were putting on quite a show.”

rodman-north-korea-8The surprise visit by the flamboyant Hall of Famer known as ”The Worm” makes him an unlikely ambassador at a time when North Koreans are girding for battle with the U.S. Just last week, Kim guided frontline troops in military exercises.

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 never signed a peace treaty, and do not have diplomatic relations.

Thursday’s game ended in a 110-110 draw, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans, Detrick said. The Xinhua News Agency first reported on the game, citing witnesses who attended.

After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans, telling him, ”You have a friend for life,” Detrick said.

At a lavish dinner at Kim’s palace, the leader plied the group with food and drinks as the group made round after round of toasts, members of the delegation said.

Rodman’s trip is the second attention-grabbing U.S. visit this year to North Korea. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, but did not meet the North Korean leader.

Extending an invitation to a man known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as for his basketball may seem inexplicable. But Kim is known to love the NBA, and has promoted sports since becoming leader.

Rodman’s agent, Darren Prince, said Rodman wasn’t concerned about criticism about making a visit to an enemy nation.

”Dennis called me last night and said it’s been a great experience and he made this trip out of the love of the USA ,” he said. ”It’s all about peace and love.”

Rodman played in 911 NBA games (573 started), averaging 7.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. He also won 5 NBA championships (2 with Detroit Pistons, three with Chicago Bulls).

Rodman had his best rebounding season with the Detroit Pistons in 91-92, when he led the league in rebounds per game, with 18.7 rpg. He was a two-time All-Star, and won the “Defensive Player of the Year” award twice, in 89-90 and 90-91. He led the NBA in rebounds per game 7 times.

Rodman, who sports trademark tattoos and piercings, had his trip to Pyongyang organized by a New York-based television production company, VICE.

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