(CNN) — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman declared his eternal friendship with North Korea’s supreme leader Thursday.
“You have a friend for life,” Rodman told Kim Jong Un after the two men sat next to each other watching an unusual basketball exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Photos of the event, published online by Vice magazine, show Rodman and Kim Jong Un sitting at court side, surrounded by an arena filled with dark-uniformed fans.
The North Korean leader, who is known to be a basketball fan, appears to be engrossed in the competition.
“To see everyone letting their hair down and getting into the match made it all the more worthwhile,” said Vice founder Shane Smith. “At the reception afterward, many kind words were spoken and invitations offered.”
The game involved a combination of three stars of the Harlem Globetrotters and members of North Korea’s “Dream Team.” The final score was a 110-110 tie.
When Kim Jong Un joined the American group for supper, Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy invited the leader to visit the United States. “His invitation was met with laughter,” according to a Vice statement.
The weeklong trip by these “basketball diplomats” is not an official U.S. mission, but for a TV documentary production. The video will be shown in an installment of a monthly series produced by Vice for HBO.
“I come in peace. I love the people of North Korea!” Rodman, 51, said on Twitter as he arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
The visit comes at a time of heightened tension between the United States and North Korea, a result of Pyongyang’s pursuit of a nuclear program. Just days ago, North Korea threatened “miserable destruction” in response to routine military exercises planned between South Korea and the United States.
North Korea provoked Western condemnation earlier this month with an underground nuclear test that was preceded by the December launch of a long-range missile capable of transporting a warhead.
Could the connection between Rodman and Kim Jong Un, who classmates said was a huge basketball fan as a teenager — when Rodman was winning five NBA championship — help cool down this international hotspot?
Rodman, whose nickname is “Worm,” tweeted that he was “honored to represent The United States of America.”
“I’m not a politician. Kim Jung Un & North Korean people are basketball fans. I love everyone. Period. End of story,” he tweeted.
Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be about 29 years old, assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
North Korea’s official news agency reported Thursday that Rodman’s delegation was taken to visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where past supreme leaders lie in state.
“They paid high tribute to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il before their statues,” KCNA reported.
It was unclear whether Rodman, who is accompanied by Globetrotters Bull Bullard, Buckets Blakes and Moose Weekes, will be taken to North Korea’s countryside, where aid groups say malnutrition is rampant
According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of people remain enslaved in prison camps, which are “notorious for horrific living conditions and abuse.”
by Alan Duke