Dennis Rodman kicked off a controversial basketball game in North Korea by singing "Happy Birthday" to the reclusive country's dictator, whom the former NBA star has described as a "friend for life."
Rodman led a delegation of former professional basketball players to Pyongyang to play an exhibition basketball game in honor of supreme leader Kim Jong-un's birthday. Kim, the grandson of the communist country's founder, is believed to have turned 31.
"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."
Rodman, the highest-profile American to meet Kim, insisted that the visit was a non-political bit of sports diplomacy meant to "open doors" between North Korea and the U.S., but the trip was roundly criticized by the U.S. Department of State and the NBA.
The North Koreans played the Americans head to head in the first half of the game and led the visitors 47 points to 39 at the half. In the second half, the teams were mixed between Korean and American players.
Rodman did not play in the second half of the game, and instead sat next to Kim.