(AP) Rodman tells Kim Jong Un he has ‘friend for life’
By JEAN H. LEE
SEOUL, South Korea
Ex-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.
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 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. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in photos shared with AP by VICE.
The two chatted in English, but Kim primarily spoke in Korean through a translator, Smith said after speaking to the VICE crew in Pyongyang.
The 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.
Duffy later invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader, Smith said, adding that he was “speechless” after hearing from Duffy how well the dinner went.
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.
Associated Press NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report from New York. Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean.