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Much to be read into NBA star's North Korea visit

Kim Jong-un shares a hug with former NBA star Dennis Rodman. Photo: KCNA

An eccentric US basketball star covered in tattoos and piercings and the Mao suited North Korean dictator - who'd have thought it?

"You have a friend for life," the US basketball star Dennis Rodman told Kim Jong-un before they sat side by side, chatting away, as they watched players from North Korea and the United States face off in mixed teams.

The basketball match in Pyongyang was a friendly, unlike the political stand off between North Korea and the US.

During the last three months Kim has overseen a long range rocket launch and a nuclear bomb test, leading to heightened tensions between the Stalinist state and the West.

In the last few weeks North Korean media has been releasing bizarre videos showing images of a US city destroyed by nuclear war while another featured President Obama obscured by flames.

All smiles as Rodman dines with Kim and his wife. Credit: KCNA

Yet days later, American sports stars are given the VIP treatment. The one thing North Korea can always be relied on to be... is unpredictable.

Although there have been reports of recent secret talks between the White House and the North Korean leadership, this unlikely meeting means Rodman is the most high profile American to meet Kim Jong-un since he came to power.

You could call it basketball diplomacy, led by a most unlikely ambassador.

Kim Jong-un, his wife Ri Sol-Ju and former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman applaud during the exhibition basketball game. Credit: KCNA

Because Kim Jong-un's intentions and North Korea's inner political workings are so mysterious, much will be read into this visit.

Is this a further sign that Kim is 'opening up'? Does the publicity surrounding the meeting indicate that the leader of a hard-line regime - which imprisons an estimated 200,000 prisoners in dreadful gulags - is keen to show he has a softer, more populist style?

Expect Rodman to be hot property on the US news talk shows when he gets back to the States as any snippet of personal information about Kim is rare.

Kim Jong-un's love of US basketball has been well-documented. He apparently got into watching NBA games when he was at school in Switzerland.

Last April, when I visited Pyongyang's first, and so far only, department store, there was an entire shelf of basketballs for sale.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman (6th R) and his party pose upon their arrival at the airport in Pyongyang. Credit: KCNA

Rodman arrived in the secretive communist country this week with other famous basketball stars. It sounds like he's managed to have fun in a country usually associated with grim shortages.

Rodman and the group travelling with him have been sending regular updates on their trip via social media.

One member of the party reports that they had a lot to drink during a lavish banquet held in their honour, and claims Kim got them "wasted".

'Rodman Slam Drunk in North Korea' - perhaps one for the headline writers .