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Rodman sings 'happy birthday' for Kim

PYONGYANG--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.

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.

Until recently, Kim's 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 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.”

Outburst Alienates Members, NBA, White House

Former NBA star Charles D. Smith says he feels remorse for coming to Pyongyang with Rodman because the event has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman's own comments.

Many of the players on Tuesday privately expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home.

“What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it,” Smith told The Associated Press.

“The way some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts,” Smith said. “Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he'll apologize for later.”

The White House said Tuesday it would not have approved Rodman's latest trip to North Korea if it had any say in the matter. Spokesman Jay Carney said the visit was considered private travel and not subject to government review.

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Former NBA star Doug Christie drives to the basket against North Korean players during an exhibition basketball game with U.S. and North Korean players at an indoor stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

(AP)

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