North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described retired National Basketball Association player Dennis Rodman as a “friend to the nation” and invited him to visit anytime to “rest and enjoy pleasant days,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, hosted a banquet for Rodman today in Pyongyang during the Basketball Hall of Fame member’s second trip to North Korea this year, according to KCNA.
Rodman, 52, who arrived in North Korea on Sept. 3, “sincerely” thanked Kim for the welcome, calling it an “expression of good will to the American people,” KCNA said.
Rodman traveled to Pyongyang after North Korea last week revoked an invitation for a visit by Robert King, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, who sought to negotiate the release of Korean-American tour operator Kenneth Bae, who has been held since November. A Foreign Ministry statement issued to KCNA on Aug. 31 said Kim’s regime canceled King’s invitation because of U.S. military drills last month with South Korea.
Rodman, who had visited the North Korean capital in February with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, wasn’t accompanied by Bae when he stopped in Beijing today on his return journey.
Bae is serving a sentence of 15 years of hard labor for alleged hostile acts against the country. The U.S. is concerned about Bae’s health and has urged North Korea to release him on humanitarian grounds, according to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Rodman was a member of five NBA championship teams and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. He is known for tattoos, multicolored hair and piercings, and has competed in professional wrestling events and reality television competitions.