BEIJING (AFP) – Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned to North Korea Tuesday to visit his “friend” leader Kim Jong-Un, playing down speculation he would try to help free a jailed American.
Kenneth Bae, 44, has been held prisoner in the North since November, and Rodman had said last week that he might seek the man’s release.
But speaking to reporters at Beijing airport en route to the North Korean capital, Rodman said “I haven’t been promised anything” on Bae.
“I’m just going to meet my friend Kim the marshal to start a new basketball league going,” Rodman said. “I’m just trying to keep the communication job going.”
The North’s official news agency later announced his arrival in Pyongyang in a one-line statement.
“I am happy to come back here again, to meet my friend,” Rodman was quoted by China’s Xinhua news agency as saying in Pyongyang.
But the agency quoted a North Korean sports ministry source as saying the visit “has nothing to do” with Bae.
The source said the delegation would give a basketball clinic, watch a taekwondo performance and a women’s football match, and travel to the Mount Kumgang resort during its four-day stay.
Xinhua said Rodman had been invited by the North’s sports authority and his entourage included Michael Spavor, a Canadian who runs an education exchange scheme called the Pyongyang Project. Also accompanying him was Joseph Terwilliger, an associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia University in New York.
Terwilliger’s webpage on a Columbia site shows him in evening dress playing the tuba, and says he teaches workshops on “Logical Reasoning in Human Genetics”.
The Swiss-educated Kim, who is around 30, is reported to be a huge fan of basketball and especially of the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.