Rodman Tells N. Korean Leader Kim Jong Un: "You have a friend for life"

By: CBS News (Posted by Josh Mabry)
By: CBS News (Posted by Josh Mabry)

SEOUL, South Korea (CBS News)-- Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman met North Korea's Kim Jong Un on Thursday on the third day of his improbable journey to Pyongyang, telling the leader "You have a friend for life," a delegation spokesman said.

Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang on Thursday, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said.

The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader, said to be a diehard basketball fan, and comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was aimed at sending a warning to the United States.

Rodman, three players from the professional Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team, and a VICE television crew are in Pyongyang to shoot a documentary about North Korea for HBO.

Thursday's game in a packed gymnasium ended in a 110-110 draw, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans, Detrick said.

Rodman took to Twitter after arriving in North Koreas on Tuesday, saying he was "honored to represent The United States of America," adding:

I'm not a politician. Kim Jung Un & North Korean people are basketball fans. I love everyone. Period. End of story. #WORMinNorthKorea

Rodman might seem an odd fit for an impoverished country where male fashion rarely ventures beyond military khaki and growing facial hair is forbidden. During his heyday in the 1990s, Rodman was a poster boy for excess. He called his 1996 autobiography "Bad as I Wanna Be" - and showed up wearing a wedding dress to promote it.

But Rodman is also a Hall of Fame basketball player and one of the best defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. During a storied, often controversial career, he won five NBA championships - a feat that quickly overshadowed his antics for at least one small North Korean group of basketball fans.

Rodman's is the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the U.S. It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of U.N. bans against atomic and missile activity.

Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs in January, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.

Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.

North Korea characterizes the satellite launch as a peaceful bid to explore space, but says the nuclear test was meant as a deliberate warning to Washington. Pyongyang says it needs to build nuclear weapons to defend itself against the U.S., and is believed to be trying to build an atomic bomb small enough to mount on a missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

Vice, known for its sometimes irreverent journalism, has made two previous visits to North Korea, coming out with the "VICE Guide to North Korea." The HBO series, which will air weekly starting April 5, features documentary-style news reports from around the world.

The Americans were also scheduled to visit North Korea's national monuments, the SEK animation studio and a new skate park in Pyongyang.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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