February 28, 2013

Dennis Rodman tells Kim Jong Un he has 'friend for life'

Jean H. Lee / The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out with North Korea's Kim Jong Un during his improbable journey to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later drinking and dining on sushi with him.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game at an arena in Pyongyang on Thursday.

AP

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Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman, fifth from right, poses with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, in red jerseys, and a production crew for the media upon arrival at Pyongyang Airport, North Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Rodman known as "The Worm" arrived in Pyongyang, becoming an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

AP

"You have a friend for life," Rodman told Kim before a crowd of thousands Thursday at a gymnasium where they sat side by side, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the United States face off in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the professional Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series.

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 Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls star that 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 at the Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium 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. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in photos shared with AP by VICE.

"The crowd was really engaged, laughed at all of the Globetrotters antics, and actually got super loud toward the end as the score got close," said Duffy, who suited up for a game in a blue uniform emblazoned with "United States of America. "Most fun I've had in a while."

Kim and Rodman 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."

The surprise visit by the flamboyant Hall of Famer known as "The Worm" makes him an unlikely ambassador at a time when state media says North Koreans are girding for battle with the U.S. Just last week, Kim guided 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.

Before Thursday's game, Rodman went up to Kim's perch to offer his greetings.

"Warmly welcoming him, Kim Jong Un let him sit next to him," the official Korean Central News Agency reported some 10 hours later.

The Americans presented Kim with a Harlem Globetrotters uniform. For the halftime entertainment, taekwondo athletes showed off some moves and a "women's brass band presented glamorous rhythmic formations," KCNA said.

(Continued on page 2)

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