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Yao Ming serves as ambassador at China, North Korea friendly

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-10-10 00:00:11

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Chinese hoop legend Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets center and eight-time NBA All-Star, took center court as Chinese and North Korean basketball players held a friendly match Tuesday.

The game was part of a high-profile sports exchange between the two countries intended to help thaw ties that had been growing chilly over the past year. Senior ruling party officials turned up for the game, but North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn't attend.

On the court, Chinese female basketball players who are visiting Pyongyang this week mixed together with North Korean female players to form two teams, called "Friendship" and "Unity."

The Unity team won, 107-106.

The 7-foot-6 Yao, towering over everyone else in the stadium, congratulated the players at the end of the game. He is the head of China's Basketball Association.

He arrived with a high-level delegation Monday that includes China's equivalent of a sports minister.

"Today's friendly match will be a display of top basketball skills and the great sportsmanship of all the players from both of our countries," Kim Il Guk, the North Korean minister of sports, said before the game began.

After a period of frosty ties, Kim Jong Un has visited China three times this year and traditional proclamations of friendship between the two neighbors have been resurrected.

Speculation continues as to whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea in return.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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