January 09, 2014 11:14
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman and his entourage of ex-basketball players put on a friendly match with North Korean athletes in Pyongyang on Wednesday to mark leader Kim Jong-un's 30th birthday.
Before the match began, Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" as the North Korean leader watched, prompting somewhat less than spontaneous applause from the 14,000 spectators in the stadium.
Rodman, who refers to Kim as his "best friend," said the match was a "birthday present" for the North Korean leader. Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju also watched the game.
Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, which leads package trips to the Stalinist country, said Kim smiled as if he was "surprised."
Earlier, Rodman blew up during a live interview with CNN. Appearing on CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday flanked by his entourage, Rodman was asked by host Chris Cuomo if he is willing to ask for the release of detained Korean-American Kenneth Bae. Rodman shouted, "Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand what Kenneth Bae did -- do you understand what he did in this country?"
When Cuomo pointed out that Kim had his uncle, former eminence grise Jang Song-taek, executed and held an American citizen captive for a year, Rodman replied, "I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think."
The eccentric ex-sportsman said his North Korea trip is "a great idea for the world, for the world. And people always come down on the things I do, and it's weird."
Bae is a 45-year-old evangelical missionary who entered North Korea posing as a tour guide in November 2012. Last year, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of crimes against the state.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government reiterated that Rodman is not in North Korea on official business. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "His comments are not representative of the views of the United States government because obviously he's not speaking on our behalf." White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "Mr. Rodman is on a private trip. I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response."
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