FIVE-TIME NBA champion Dennis Rodman drew huge crowds to venues when he decided to join the Brighton Bears in 2006.

Basketball fans from across the county travelled to watch the Hall of Famer in the twilight of his career and his appearances arguably drew some of the largest media attention in the history of British basketball.

Although he would play a few exhibition games, his stint with the now-defunct Brighton team would be his last appearance for a club.

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Despite this, seven years later, 20,000 people watched, some screaming and crying, as he walked onto a basketball court once again.

But the commotion was not for him. It was for the man next to him, who he would later describe as his “friend for life”. The Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim jong-un.

So how did the former Brighton Bears player – better known for his key role in the era-defining Chicago Bulls NBA team – strike up an unlikely friendship with a dictator worshipped like a god by his people, but accused of atrocities by the outside world?

The answer is Kim Jong-un’s love of basketball.

In 2013, the year his country ran the third test of its nuclear weapons programme, North Korean officials are said to have rung the front desk of the Chicago Bulls.

The team had become an international phenomenon in the 90s due to their unprecedented success and popularity of its undisputed talisman, Michael Jordan. This period has recently been immortalised in the Netflix documentary, The Last Dance.

Officials are reported to have invited Michael Jordan to visit the country, but he declined. As did fellow team-mate Scottie Pippen.

However, Dennis Rodman, who played power forward for the team, accepted the invitation believing it to be nothing more than an autograph signing.

“I knew nothing about North Korea,” Rodman later told reporters.

That might explain why upon meeting the dictator, he had no idea who he was.

It was only when Rodman walked onto a North Korean basketball stadium to the wailing of tens of thousands of people, the realisation dawned.

He said: “I’ve never seen 20,000 people get so emotional. People were clapping and crying.

“The next thing you know the interpreter said ‘this is our supreme leader’.”

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The New York Times described the subsequent pictures of the exhibition match the pair watched as “some of the strangest sights in the history of accidental American diplomacy”.

Shane Smith, the founder of Vice Media, who was filming a documentary of the event, told the paper: “Apparently, he had a blast at the game.

“So he invited them back to his home for a party, and they had a grand old time.

“Speeches were made. Dennis made a very nice one and they were met with rounds of applause.”

Kim told Rodman that he hoped this would improve North Korean-American relations, which had been strained at the time due to a recent nuclear missile test.

But apparently there was more on the agenda than just diplomacy.

“I basically hang out with him all the time, we laughed, we sang karaoke,” Rodman said.

“We do a lot of cool things together. We hang out, we go skiing.”

Upon his return from the country – whose people are described as living under one the most repressive regimes on earth – Rodman would declare Kim Jong-un his “friend for life”.

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The basketball star would return later that year after asking Kim to do him “a solid” and “cut Kenneth Bae loose”.

Bae was a Korean American Christian missionary who was detained after crossing the border and had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour.

He was eventually released – thanking Rodman for his intervention. He is also thought to have been involved in the release of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who had been imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 on a charge of subversion.

Rodman has made a number of trips to and from the country and, in one bizarre occasion, led a crowd in singing Happy Birthday to the dictator.

Over the years, Rodman told American reporters he had a “love” for Kim jong-un and campaigned for better relations between the two countries. However, the former NBA star received backlash in the United States for his friendship with the North Korean leader.

Critics say Kim Jong-un rules with extreme brutality, making his nation among the worst human rights violators in the world.

A United Nations report on the country’s crimes found: “Extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

However, President Trump and Kim jong-un’s meeting to discuss relations in 2018 was seen as a step towards a better life for those living under the dictators’ rule.

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At the time, the basketball star, who had travelled to the country to mark the event, broke down in tears in a live interview with CNN.

He said: “When I said those things I went home I got so many death threats, I got so many death threats when I was protecting everything.

“I believe in North Korea and when I came home, I couldn’t even go home, I had to hide out for 30 days.

“Today is a great day for everybody.”