Dennis Rodman worms his way into North Korea

Dennis Rodman

Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman is heading to North Korea with VICE media company _ tattoos, piercings, bad-boy reputation and all.

The American known as 'The Worm' is set to arrive Tuesday in Pyongyang, becoming an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Rodman, three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, a VICE correspondent and a production crew from the company are visiting North Korea to shoot footage for a new TV show set to air on HBO in early April, VICE told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before the group's departure from Beijing.

It's the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the U.S. It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of U.N. bans against atomic and missile activity.

Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs in January, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.

Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.

North Korea characterizes the satellite launch as a peaceful bid to explore space, but says the nuclear test was meant as a deliberate warning to Washington. Pyongyang says it needs to build nuclear weapons to defend itself against the U.S., and is believed to be trying to build an atomic bomb small enough to mount on a missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

VICE said the Americans hope to engage in a little 'basketball diplomacy' in North Korea by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals _ and by competing alongside North Korea's top athletes in a scrimmage they hope will be attended by leader Kim Jong Un.

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