NEW YORK (AFP) - Flamboyant retired NBA star Dennis Rodman, known as much for his piercings and tattoos as for his court skills, arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to bring it a bit of "basketball diplomacy".
The 51-year-old Hall of Famer, nicknamed The Worm and famed for his changing hair color, off-court antics and dating Madonna, landed in the isolated state with tensions high following the North's third nuclear test.
Video on the website of the North's state Korean Central News Agency shows Rodman arriving at Pyongyang airport in a gray t-shirt, black scarf, black baseball cap, sunglasses, large gold hoop earrings - and a lip ring.
"It's true, I'm in North Korea," the former Chicago Bulls forward said on Twitter, saying he was "looking forward to sitting down with" leader Kim Jong Un, who is reportedly a major basketball fan.
"They love basketball here. Honored to represent The United States of America," Rodman tweeted from his @dennisrodman account, using the hashtag #WORMinNorthKorea.
"I'm not a politician... I love everyone. Period. End of story."
Rodman's visit to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team was organised by the New York media company Vice, which is making a documentary to air on cable television network HBO.
"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes," Vice founder Shane Smith said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official acronym.
"But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.
These channels of cultural communication might appear untraditional, and perhaps they are, but we think it's important just to keep the lines open."
"And if Washington isn't going to send their Generals, then we'll send our Globetrotters," Mr Smith said, in a joking double-entendre reference to the exhibition team's longtime foes.
The group said its trip to what it dubbed "basketball-crazed" Pyongyang will include a basketball camp for children, and "community-based games to encourage openness and better relations with the outside world".
It added that "there may be a top-level scrimmage" attended by Kim.
The group also plans to visit national sites and monuments, the Pyongyang Skate Park, and the national animation studio, SEK, the statement said.
The visit follows a trip to North Korea last month by Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Schmidt said afterwards that he strongly urged the North to embrace Internet freedom.
The North has come under intense international criticism since carrying out its third underground nuclear test this month, following the launch in December of a long-range rocket.
The country has hinted it could carry out more nuclear and missile tests if the United Nations (UN) Security Council tightens sanctions against it.
The US State Department said it had not been informed in advance of Rodman's travel plans, and that it did not vet private travel to North Korea.
When pressed on the issue, as the department had characterised the timing of Richardson and Schmidt's trip as unhelpful, deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said: "Look, we're talking about basketball and a kids' clinic.
"It's different than some sort of dialogue directly with the regime."
Rodman won three NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1990s, and two more with the Detroit Pistons. He also played for the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Rodman - who once wore a wedding dress to promote one of his books - was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
He was one of the top defensive players in the league for many seasons. He won an NBA record seven consecutive rebounding titles.
On Twitter, Rodman joked, "Maybe I'll run into the Gangnam Style dude while I'm here," referring to South Korean pop sensation Psy.