Pyongyang, North Korea (4E Sports) – The controversial exhibition game between a team led by Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman and several former NBA players against a North Korean squad was held Wednesday, with the latter emerging victorious, 47-39 at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium.
The game was a birthday gift to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a dictator who recently lauded the execution of his uncle.
“It was, as you might imagine, a bizarre and unusual occasion that won’t easily be forgotten,” Simon Cokerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, which stages tours for Western visitors to North Korea.
In a YouTube video posted after he accompanied tourists to watch the match, Cokerell said Kim emerged to cheering crowds that for several minutes wished him long life — ending only when the leader hushed them.
After that, Rodman gave an impromptu speech and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim.
Rodman’s squad and a North Korean team played two games. The first featured his team in a 20-minute match in a loss against the North Korean squad. The second game pitted squads with Western and North Korean players on each team, he said.
“That game was actually much better; there was a lot of showboating, showing off, alley-oops, slam-dunks and that sort of thing,” Cokerell said.
Before the game, Rodman elicited widespread condemnation when he suggested in an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN’s “New Day” that American Kenneth Bae had done something to deserve his 15-year sentence.
On Wednesday, Bae’s family accused Rodman of “playing games” with Bae’s life. Relatives and U.S. officials have insisted Bae committed no crime.
Bae, described by family members as a devout Christian who ran a legal tour operation in North Korea, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2012 on charges that he planned an operation to topple North Korea’s government through religious activities.
Meanwhile, outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern said he was unimpressed with Rodman’s move to bring retired players to North Korea.
“Dennis will be Dennis, but I think there is a lot at stake here in terms of a … a very dangerous country,” Stern said Tuesday on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
The NBA has had preliminary discussions with Pyongyang about a cultural exchange, Stern said. But he said he wouldn’t send any players to North Korea without White House approval.
“Sports diplomacy is a wonderful thing,” he said. “But they should be done in a far more dignified fashion than this particular trip is being carried out.”