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'He is my friend first... and I love him,' said former basketball star Dennis Rodman about Kim Jong Un as he headed back to North Korea for an exhibition game.
If there were frequent flyer miles for North Korea, former basketball star Dennis Rodman would be at the head of the line to sign up.
Rodman set off for Pyongyang on Monday, along with a group of former NBA players.
His mission? To lead a team including retired NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker in an exhibition game against North Korea in honor of dear leader Kim Jong Un's birthday.
Rodman said he hoped the friendly competition would "open the doors" to "talk about certain things," but he isn't going to bring up the regime's human rights abuses.
"I am not going to sit there and go 'Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing. That is not the right way to do it. He is my friend first... and I love him," Rodman told reporters at Beijing airport.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as it is officially known, is a one-party Communist state which has been ruled by the Kim dynasty since its founding.
The most recent news out of North Korea was Kim having his uncle and former mentor Jang Song-Thaek executed.
"I am not worried about his uncle," Rodman told reporters in Beijing when he was asked about the move.
Since his first trip to North Korea last February, Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the hermit kingdom's young ruler, whom he called a "friend for life."
Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls, for whom Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
Rodman didn't meet Kim on his trip to Pyongyang before Christmas, when he went to train North Korean players. He assured anyone who might be concerned about a lack of Kim and Rodman time that "this time you are going to see me with him the whole time."
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.