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Rodman sings happy birthday to North Korean leader

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- 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 that has been heavily criticized in the United States.

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.

Watch Rodman sing 'Happy Birthday' to Kim Jong Un (story continues below):

(Raw) Rodman Holds Kim Jong Un's Birthday Basket

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. Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in late 2011, is believed to be in his early thirties, but his age has not been officially confirmed. Until recently, his birthday was also not widely known - though it was quietly observed elsewhere around the capital Wednesday.

Members of Rodman's team, who average in their late 40s, said they came because they believed the game would be a good opportunity to create a human connection with the people of the isolated country. But some said they have been concerned by the negative reaction they have seen from the media and critics back home.

"This was a test of faith. We stepped out into the unknown," said former New York Knicks player Charles D. Smith, who has played similar games in other countries and has acted as the team's articulate spokesman to balance Rodman's famously outspoken character.

Smith said he was gratified to see the North Korean crowd enjoy the game, but he added that he had mixed emotions about the two-hour event.

"Emotionally, I don't know what to feel," he told The Associated Press afterward. "I'm indifferent. I'm not totally overjoyed."

Smith said he and the other players did not join Rodman in singing the birthday song.

"We always tell Dennis that he can't sing. He is tone deaf," Smith said. "He did it alone."

Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim. He has carefully avoided getting involved in overtly political activities, saying that he is not a statesman and instead is seeking only to build cultural connections with the North through basketball that may help improve relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

That has not stopped many in the United States - including members of Congress, the NBA and human rights groups - from calling his visits to North Korea ill-advised and naive.

In particular, Rodman has been slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, an American missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes.

Join the discussion

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Dan January 09 2014 at 5:17 AM

Kim is orders of magnitude savvier than Rodman and is using him for a devious reason. The reason that Kim was smiling while Rodman was singing is because he was thinking to himself "Stupid American".

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Larry 55 January 09 2014 at 2:45 AM

Ahhh Soooo, To be Patriotic, we must Hate 'n want to kill everyone our Govt doesn't like or trust. They hated 'n derogedly babbled about the Beatles for going to Russia, they despised Nixon 'n knocked him for yrs, for going to Red China. Soooo, what is wrong w' trying to be friendly in a peaceful way to Crazy Govts? USA always wants to negotiate in a Stuffy Stale kind of way. At least he is Making them happy, who knows, maybe they might melt 'n take down the Dreaded Korean Demilitarized Zone , Look at what HW did w' the Berlin wall prob. His biggest mistake was not staying w' it, when Gorby asked him for help 'n show them how to become a democratic Russia.

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tvonmaur January 09 2014 at 2:47 AM

even Cheney and Rumsfeld would play a game of Ball in N.Korea if the Price is right

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Welcome from Peg January 09 2014 at 12:31 AM

I hate to add to this sad commentation because any response may be seen as a victory for Dennis Rodman, rediculous, rich, ugly goon. He went out of the country to get his cookies because no one took him serious in his own country and the leader of the country, wherein he currently displays his acts needs attention.

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Dr Gerry January 09 2014 at 1:12 AM

Poor Dennis. He was a great player. I wonder how long he's been this looney tunes. I guess money talks, as usual....

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ambersreads1 January 09 2014 at 12:35 AM

i bet he is also good friends with hanoi jane.. what a sad traitor loser he turned out to be

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tomjes4 January 08 2014 at 11:06 PM

Rodman stay in North Korea....PLEASE

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Dan January 09 2014 at 5:12 AM

Maybe Rodman and Madonna should get back together and sing a happy birthday duet to Kim. Madonna's teenage son can hold a bottle of gin in celebration and the media will have a field day reporting worthless news.

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fiossa January 09 2014 at 1:34 AM

Hi by acting so aggressively Rodmban made a J ass of himself he argued with CNN bragged for being in a nation of a dictator with his man made poor sense by speaking a laud .
made no effort to help Kenneth Bae, what is he taliking about what is the purpose , why is CNN even bother to have him talk on national TV
is acting childish at his age this man is not a USA representative

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rvigil January 09 2014 at 12:44 AM

Rodman has spent his life searching for a father figure, it appears that he has found one.

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