Basketball player Dennis Rodman visits North Korea

Dennis Rodman (R) and Harlem Globetrotters at Pyongyang airport (23 Feb 2013)
Image caption Vice media said Rodman (far right) and the Harlem Globetrotters hoped to engage in "basketball diplomacy"

Flamboyant retired US basketball player Dennis Rodman, known for his "bad boy" image, is visiting North Korea.

Rodman, along with three current members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball show team, will be filming a TV show for a US media company.

The company told the Associated Press news agency they hoped to engage in some "basketball diplomacy".

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, who oversaw the country's recent nuclear test, is known to be a basketball fan.

The visit by the players comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and North Korea over the test and Pyongyang's launch of a three-stage rocket, a move condemned by the UN as a banned test of missile technology.

Both were seen as a breach of UN resolutions and condemned as a threat to stability in the region.

"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] strange? In a word, yes,'' Shane Smith, the founder of US media company Vice and host of the planned TV show, told AP. "But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.

"These channels of cultural communication might appear untraditional, and perhaps they are, but we think it's important just to keep the lines open," he said.

'A lot of wizardry'

As the delegation arrived at Pyongyang's airport, Rodman told reporters: ''It's my first time, I think it's most of these guys' first time here, so hopefully everything's going to be OK, and hoping the kids have a good time for the game."

Bull Bullard, one of the three Harlem Globetrotters on the tour, said they were hoping to teach North Koreans some of the team's signature basketball skills.

"We're going to teach them, we're going to show them what we do,... a lot of magic with the basketball, a lot of wizardry, a lot of fun and entertainment," he said.

Image caption Kim Jong-un is believed to be a fan of Dennis Rodman

It was not clear exactly what the players would be doing while in North Korea, but Vice said the TV show, which would be broadcast in April, was part of "documentary-style news reports from around the world".

Rodman, who is 1.98m tall and known as "The Worm", is famous for his multiple tattoos and piercings, bleached hair, occasional cross-dressing and at times explosive on-court behaviour.

He used to play for the Chicago Bulls which, according to a memoir written by Kim Jong-un's former sushi chef, were the North Korean leader's favourite basketball team as a young man.

Since retiring from basketball he has tried his hand at wrestling and acting.

Basketball is a popular sport in North Korea, but few citizens would have the chance to watch televised international games.

Rodman and his group will be in the country until 5 March, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

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