SEOUL (Reuters) - Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea to film a television documentary on Tuesday with representatives of the Harlem Globetrotters celebrity team, North Korean state television reported.
Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics.
Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during just over a year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland.
Rodman, who sports trademark tattoos and piercings, played for the Bulls. The trip to Pyongyang was organised by a New York-based television production company, VICE.
“I think most of guys are first time here so hopefully everything is OK and hopefully kids have a good time for the game,” Rodman, sporting a baseball cap and sunglasses, told North Korea’s KCNA.
VICE, which has previously worked in North Korea, said the week-long trip would include running a basketball camp for North Korean children and engaging in community-based games.
The company hinted that Kim may attend one of its events, but that could not be independently verified.
Its North Korean footage with Rodman will be distributed on HBO in April.
U.S. citizens do not require clearance to visit North Korea, and Google Inc. (GOOG.O) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt visited in January.
The United States is leading a drive in the United Nations to have stricter sanctions imposed on North Korea following its nuclear test two weeks ago.
The third member of the Kim family to rule North Korea, an isolated and impoverished state that has about 200,000 political prisoners in labour camps and where a third of children are malnourished, has a penchant for American culture.
On coming to office, he staged a spectacular featuring a host of Disney characters. He has also been pictured at theme parks, in sharp contrast with his father’s austere appearances.
There has been a variety of attempts at sports diplomacy with North Korea, ranging from wrestling to judo and basketball.
None appears to have fared any better than the regular kind of diplomacy in preventing North Korea from pushing towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
As Rodman and his colleagues arrived, North Korean state news agency KCNA issued yet another challenge to the United States, saying it had no choice but to respond to what it called U.S. “provocations” over sanctions with “military muscle”. (Editing by Ken Wills and Robert Birsel)