PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Dennis Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before leading a squad of former NBA stars onto the court Wednesday at a Pyongyang stadium for a game Rodman said is part of his "basketball diplomacy"with the North – which has been heavily criticized in the United States.
In particular, Rodman has been slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes.
Rodman raised an outcry at home when, in a television interview on Tuesday, he appeared to suggest that Bae was to blame for his captivity.
Rodman dedicated the game to his "best friend" Kim who, along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives, watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.
Along with Rodman, the former NBA players included ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker. Also on the roster were Craig Hodges, Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith and four streetballers.
Rodman said he was honored to be able to play the game in the North Korean capital, and called the event "historic."
To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half.
The game is a new milestone in Rodman's unusual relationship with Kim, who rarely meets with foreigners and remains a mystery to much of the outside world.
This was Rodman's fourth trip to Pyongyang. On previous visits, he spent time dining as a guest of Kim, with whom he says he has a genuine friendship, though he did not meet Kim on his third trip.
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