Former NBA star Dennis Rodman held try-outs yesterday for a North Korean team to face a dozen NBA veterans in an exhibition game on leader Kim Jong-un's birthday next month - though he hasn't convinced all the players on the American team that it's safe to come to Pyongyang.
The flamboyant Hall of Famer said plans for the January 8 game were moving ahead but some of the 12 Americans he wants were afraid to come.
Some foreign analysts say the dramatic purge and execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle less than a week ago has cast doubt on Kim's future. But officials in Pyongyang say there is no instability and Kim remains firmly in control.
"You know, they're still afraid to come here, but I'm just telling them, you know, don't be afraid man, it's all love, it's all love here," Rodman said after the try-outs at the Pyongyang Indoor Gymnasium. "I understand what's going on with the political stuff, and I say, I don't go into that venture, I'm just doing one thing for these kids here, and for this country, and for my country, and for the world pretty much."
Rodman, who arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday, said he expected to announce the roster soon. He also said he was planning another game in June.
Rodman, wearing a pink button-down shirt and puffing on a cigar, watched as a couple of dozen local players took to the basketball court. He told them that each of the 12 he chooses will get two new pairs of tennis shoes.
When asked why he liked basketball, North Korean player Kim Un-chol told Rodman he started playing the game because he was impressed by it on TV, and said he also wanted to be good at the sport because it was a favourite of leader Kim and his late father, Kim Jong-il.
Rodman asked all the players if they felt the same way. They nodded in unison.
"I want you guys to do one thing for your leader," Rodman then told them. "It's his birthday. It's a very special, special day for the country."
He stressed that he hoped the game would be friendly, without political or nationalistic overtones.
He said the former NBA players would take on the North Koreans in the first half, but the teams would be mixed for the second half.
"It's not about win or loss. It's about one thing - unite two countries," Rodman said.
Video: Rodman hopes N. Korea basketball match will 'engage' US