US basketball player Dennis Rodman yesterday told Kim Jong-Un he has 'friend for life', in front of a crowd of thousands during his improbable journey to Pyongyang.
The unlikely pair were at a gym where they sat side by side chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the United States face off in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company said.
Mr Kim, who is known to be a basketball fan, was seen sat smiling and laughing next to Rodman, who is in the country filming a documentary.
The game involved three members of the Harlem Globetrotters, who are on tour in North Korea with Rodman, and members of North Korea's "Dream Team". Rodman later reportedly told Mr Kim he had "a friend for life".
Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters arrived in North Korea earlier this week accompanied by a team from the Vice television company to film part of a new weekly HBO series.
The Globetrotters and Rodman say the purpose of the visit is to engage in some "basketball diplomacy".
The unlikely encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet Kim since the young North Korean leader took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop of tension between Washington and Pyongyang.
North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North.
Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told the former Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls star that he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, VICE founder Shane Smith said.
The basketball scene was particularly bizarre, coming as it does against a backdrop of raised tensions between the US and the secretive North Korean regime over missile testing.
Just last month North Korea threatened the US that if they continued with joint military exercises with South Korea it could set off a war in which American forces would “meet a miserable destruction.”
Tensions have also been raised after North Korea's third nuclear test, which was carried out on February 12 to international condemnation.
Kim and Rodman chatted in English, but Kim primarily spoke in Korean through a translator, Smith said after speaking to the VICE crew in Pyongyang.
"They bonded during the game," Smith said by telephone from New York after speaking to the crew. "They were both enjoying the crazy shots, and the Harlem Globetrotters were putting on quite a show."
Before the game, Rodman went up to Kim's seat to offer his greetings.
"Warmly welcoming him, Kim Jong Un let him sit next to him," the official Korean Central News Agency reported some 10 hours later.
The Americans presented Kim with a Harlem Globetrotters uniform. For the halftime entertainment, taekwondo athletes showed off some moves and a "women's brass band presented glamorous rhythmic formations," KCNA said.
Thursday's game ended in a 110-110 tie, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans.
After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said.
At a lavish dinner later, the leader plied the group with food and drinks and round after round of toasts were made.
"Dinner was an epic feast. Felt like about 10 courses in total," Duffy said in an email to AP. "I'd say the winners were the smoked turkey and sushi, though we had the Pyongyang cold noodles earlier in the trip, and that's been the runaway favourite so far."
Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader.
Kim said he hoped sports exchange would promote "mutual understanding between the people of the two countries," KCNA said.
Rodman's trip is the second attention-grabbing US visit this year to North Korea. Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, but did not meet the North Korean leader.