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The U.S. State Department hasn’t been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group, a senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public. The official said the department does not vet U.S. citizens’ private travel to North Korea and urges U.S. citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website.

In a now-defunct U.S.-North Korean agreement in which Washington planned last year to give food aid to Pyongyang in exchange for nuclear concessions, Washington said it was prepared to increase people-to-people exchanges with the North, including in the areas of culture, education and sports.

Promoting technology and sports are two major policy priorities of Kim Jong-un, who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

Along with soccer, basketball is enormously popular in North Korea, where it’s not uncommon to see basketball hoops set up in hotel parking lots or in schoolyards. It’s a game that doesn’t require much equipment or upkeep.

The United States remains Enemy No. 1 in North Korea, and North Koreans have limited exposure to American pop culture. But they know Michael Jordan, a former teammate of Rodman’s when they both played for the Bulls in the 1990s.

During a historic visit to North Korea in 2000, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented Kim Jong-il, famously an NBA fan, with a basketball signed by Jordan that later went on display in the huge cave at Mount Myohyang that holds gifts to the leaders.

North Korea even had its own Jordan wannabe: Ri Myong-hun, a 7-foot-9-inch star player who is said to have renamed himself “Michael” after his favorite player and moved to Canada for a few years in the 1990s in hopes of making it into the NBA.

Even today, Jordan remains well-loved here. At the Mansudae Art Studio, which produces the country’s top art, a portrait of Jordan spotted last week, complete with a replica of his signature and “NBA” painted in one corner, seemed an odd inclusion among the propaganda posters and celadon vases on display.

An informal poll of North Koreans revealed that “The Worm” isn’t quite as much a household name in Pyongyang.

But Kim Jong-un was a basketball-crazy adolescent when Rodman, now 51, was with the Bulls and when the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition basketball team, kept up a frenetic travel schedule worldwide.

In a memoir about his decade serving as Kim Jong-il’s personal sushi chef, a man who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto recalled that basketball was the young Kim Jong-un’s biggest passion and that the Chicago Bulls were his favorite.

The notoriously unpredictable and irrepressible Rodman said he has no special antics up his sleeve for making his mark on one of the world’s most regimented and militarized societies, a place in which order and conformity are enforced with Stalinist fervor.

But he said he isn’t leaving any of his piercings behind.

• Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Brian Mahoney in New York contributed to this article.