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BEIJING - He's been mocked in the USA as the propaganda plaything of North Korea's young dictator. His corporate sponsor pulled its name last month. And he's admitted to difficulty persuading other ex-NBA stars to visit one of the world's most repressive regimes.

But Dennis Rodman, self-appointed "basketball diplomat," led 12 U.S. players to Pyongyang Monday for an exhibition game there Wednesday to mark the birthday of his friend Kim Jung Un, the third generation of the Kim dynasty that dominates North Korea, and regularly threatens peace in northeast Asia.

The flamboyant, former Chicago Bulls forward has struck up an unlikely friendship with the reportedly basketball-loving leader, who had his powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek executed last month. Highly isolated North Korea controls information on its ruling family to such an extent that even Kim's actual age remains unconfirmed.

Rodman, who was the first to confirm the gender and name of Kim's infant child, promised Monday "to put on a good show for him for his birthday." Rodman and 11 of his chosen team-mates, including ex-NBA players and current street ball and Harlem Globetrotter players, left Beijing on a midday flight to Pyongyang, Rodman's fourth trip there in under a year.

READ THE FULL STORY: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/06/dennis-rodman-north-korea/4335497/