PYONGYANG, North Korea — Dennis Rodman sang Happy Birthday to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before leading a squad of former NBA stars in a friendly game Wednesday as part of his "basketball diplomacy" that has been criticized in the United States as naive and laughable.
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 crowd of about 14,000 clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.
Rodman said he was honored to be able to play the game in the North Korean capital and called the event "historic." Some members of the U.S. Congress, the NBA and human rights groups, however, say he has become a public relations tool for North Korea's government. The government's poor human rights record and its threats to use nuclear weapons against rival South Korea and the United States have kept North Korea a pariah state.
Rodman, 52, has refused to address those concerns while continuing to forge a relationship with Kim, whose age has never been officially disclosed.
To keep the game friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but the teams split up and merged for the second half.
The North Korean team scored 47 points to 39 for the Americans before the teams were mixed.
"A lot of people have expressed different views about me and your leader, your marshal, and I take that as a compliment," Rodman told the crowd. "Yes, he is a great leader, he provides for his people here in this country, and thank God the people here love the marshal."