PYONGYANG, Jan. 8 -- Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman celebrated the birthday of Kim Jong Un, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), here Wednesday, playing in a friendship game and singing a happy birthday song to "his good friend."
Before playing in the match in a stadium, Rodman gave a brief speech. He said that, despite some people doubting the purpose of his visit, he simply came to celebrate his good friend's birthday. He also said he did feel the love and enthusiasm the DPRK people have for their leader.
He then sang "Happy Birthday to You" in front of Kim, creating a buzz among the audience.
Rodman arrived here on Monday along with a team of retired National Basketball Association (NBA) players and streetballers for an exhibition game to mark Kim's birthday. This was his fourth trip to the DPRK within 12 months.
The first half of the friendship game, with former NBA stars in blue against DPRK basketball players in red, ended 39-47. Rodman played in the first quarter. He then changed clothes and joined Kim on the stadium platform, chatting and smoking together.
The second half was played between a white and a green team, each with mixed players. It ended 63-54. DPRK Sports Minister Kang Chong Mu and Rodman respectively presented trophies and souvenir medals to the teams and players.
Pyongyang citizens and sportsmen, as well as foreign diplomats and representatives from international organizations, were invited to watch the game. Foreign journalists were not invited to cover Rodman's trip.
So far, local media have not given coverage of Rodman's visit, and have shown no special programs nor articles celebrating Kim's birthday, which has not been designated as a public holiday.
Rodman has met Kim three times. During his first trip to the country, in February 2013, he described Kim as "an awesome guy." During the second, in September, he referred to Kim as his "friend for life."
But he failed to meet Kim when he visited the DPRK in December to help train the country's national basketball team.
"I'm just an athlete, an individual who wants to go over there and play something for the world," Rodman said at Beijing's international airport on Monday.
"Mr. Rodman is not there representing the United States," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press briefing on Tuesday.
The U.S. basketball league also distanced itself from Rodman. "The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman's trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement.