Former basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived to a warm welcome in North Korea with a team of retired NBA players in tow for a dream match on Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. US officials and North Korean escapees are less than thrilled, however.

The outlandish star and self-proclaimed friend of the stoic North Korean leader appeared excited before embarking on his fourth trip to Pyongyang, which he said was strictly sports-related as all his previous visits. Rodman, known as “The Worm”, spoke highly of the reclusive state and expressed his “love” for Kim, his “friend for life.”

“People always say that North Korea is like a really communist country, that people are not allowed to go there,” Rodman told reporters at the airport in Beijing. “I just know the fact that, you know, to me Kim Jong-Un is a nice guy.”

“Whatever he does political-wise, that’s not my job. I’m just an athlete, an individual who wants to go over there and play something for the world. That’s it.”

Rodman also said he hoped the exhibition match could “open doors” to “talk about certain things.”

“It’s trying to have a connection and opened the doors, you know, for people to come here and say North Korea is not bad,” Rodman said.

US officials’ sentiments on Rodman’s trip were hardly affable. New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel condemned the basketball match as “bizarre and grotesque” at a press conference in the city.

“What Dennis Rodman is doing is very ill conceived,” said Engel, a minority leader of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“It’s a cruel joke,” he added. “The people of North Korea are suffering and we’re offering them basketball.”

He likened Rodman’s bizarre meetings with Kim to “inviting Adolf Hitler to lunch. “There has to be some modicum of behavior before you sit down with people.”

Several North Koreans who fled the impoverished nation for political ayslum in the US echoed Engel’s remarks.

“I want to say to NBA player people, please don’t make Kim Jong-Un happy,” said Jo Jinhye, an exiled North Korean who runs an organization that helps fellow exiles.

“If you want to help North Korea, just help normal North Korean people, not North Korea’s government or Kim Jong-Un.”

During an interview with CNN, Rodman was asked whether he would bring up the issue of imprisoned American Kenneth Bae. The 52-year-old responded angrily: “The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand – if you understand what Kenneth Bae did . . . Do you understand what he did? In this country?” However, the former Bull did not elaborate.

By Maesie Bertumen