BEIJING -- As Dennis Rodman continued his controversial "basketball diplomacy" inside North Korea Friday, his U.S. teammates at an exhibition game Wednesday flew out of Pyongyang praising their trip and declaring "mission accomplished."
"On behalf of all the players that went on the trip, it's probably best to say that we set out on a mission to use basketball as a bridge for cultural exchange and we accomplished that mission," said Charles Smith at Beijing airport Friday.
Earlier this week, the former New York Knicks forward expressed "remorse for the guys" at the way their trip, criticized back in the USA, was being "dwarfed" by politics, and admitted that some of Rodman's words and actions "tainted our efforts".
Smith dismissed the suggestion that any schism had developed between him and Rodman.
"Dennis is a friend," Smith said Friday. "We have known each other intimately for three-and-a-half years. We don't have any division. That won't happen."
Rodman apologized Thursday for widely-criticized comments Tuesday about Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea.
He blamed his remarks on stress and drinking. "Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates," he said in a statement. "My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart."
But the game went ahead, in the presence of North Korean dictator, and Rodman's "best friend", Kim Jong Un, who shook hands after the game with the U.S. players. Those players wore medals given by their Korean hosts, according to footage on North Korean state television.
Smith sounded far more positive Friday. "We were in North Korea with tourists, with other Americans and our documentary film crew and all of us agree that the trip was just simply incredible," he said. "I had a chance to meet with some of the leadership there," said Smith, who promised he would speak soon "about some North Korean issues, their economic strategies, and some of the cultural experiences we had overall."
Smith said he had, "No regrets about the trip whatsoever."
Most of the other players refused to make additional comments, but a few praised their trip. "It was a great experience," said Antwan Scott, a former Harlem Globetrotter. "I would go back definitely," he said.
"It was amazing," agreed ex-NBA player Doug Christie, who declined to indicate if he would take his wife Jackie, a Basketball Wives TV star, to the highly isolated and impoverished nation.
Rodman remained in North Korea Friday, on his fourth trip there in under a year. No other foreign citizen is known to have enjoyed such regular access to the young, reclusive leader of North Korea's repressive regime.
Rodman was reported to have visited Kim's newly built ski resort on North Korea's east coast Thursday. State media have praised Rodman's visit, which the U.S. government has stressed enjoys no official backing from Washington.
Kim, "welcomed the American basketball players' visit to the DPRK and said that the game served as a good occasion in promoting the understanding between the peoples of the two countries," the official KCNA news agency reported.
Rodman sang 'happy birthday' before Wednesday's game, which he called a gift for Kim's birthday. The song reflected "his reverence for Kim Jong Un, touching the spectators," said KCNA.