SEOUL, South Korea — 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, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play on mixed teams, said Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company.
Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told Rodman he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, Detrick said. Kim later invited the Americans to dinner.
The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader since Kim took power in December 2011. It 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 aimed at sending a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a “hostile” policy toward the North. The two countries fought each other during the Korean War and do not have diplomatic relations.
Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a VICE production crew to shoot a documentary for a new HBO TV series.
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 front-line troops in military exercises.
The Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and the two foes never signed a peace treaty.
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.
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.
The leader later plied the group with liquor, according to VICE TV producer Jason Mojica.
“Um … so Kim Jong Un just got the #VICEonHBO crew wasted … no really, that happened,” Mojica wrote on his Twitter feed from Pyongyang.
Duffy later invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader, Detrick said.
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