The former basketball star Dennis Rodman has told the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, "you have a friend for life", as the two men watched the Harlem Globetrotters and dined on sushi. Rodman made his comments to Kim before a crowd of thousands on Thursday as they watched players from North Korea and the US face off in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New-York-based Vice media company, told Associated Press. Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the professional Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, the Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy and a production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly television series on the US channel HBO. 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 US to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy.
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 US and North Korea, the 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 facial jewellery. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in photographs Vice provided. "The crowd was really engaged, laughed at all of the Globetrotters' antics, and actually got super loud towards the end as the score got close," said Duffy.
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." ith his surprise visit, the flamboyant basketball star known as "the Worm" became an unlikely ambassador at a time when state media says North Koreans are girding for battle with the US. Just last week, Kim guided troops in military exercises.
North Korea and the US 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 (KCNA) reported later. The Americans presented Kim with a Harlem Globetrotters uniform. For the half-time entertainment, tae kwon do athletes showed off some moves and a "women's brass band presented glamorous rhythmic formations", KCNA said.
Thursday's game ended in a 110-110 tie, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans. At a lavish dinner later, Kim plied the group with food and drinks and round after round of toasts were made. "Dinner was an epic feast. Felt like about 10 courses in total," Duffy said in an email to AP. "I'd say the winners were the smoked turkey and sushi, though we had the Pyongyang cold noodles earlier in the trip, and that's been the runaway favourite so far." Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the US, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader.
Kim said he hoped sports exchange would promote "mutual understanding between the people of the two countries", KCNA said. Rodman's trip is the second attention-grabbing US 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. In Washington, the state department refused to comment on Rodman's visit or his meeting with Kim. "Private, individual Americans are welcome to take actions they see fit," spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.