[Former] basketball star Dennis Rodman is heading to North Korea for the second time this year for what he says is a friendly visit to his friend, the communist nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

But he is playing down speculation his trip is aimed at freeing jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae — saying there’s been “nothing promised.” Rodman spoke briefly to reporters Tuesday while transiting at Beijing’s airport on his way to Pyongyang.

“I’m going to North Korea to meet my friend, Kim,” he said. “It’s a friendly gesture.”

Reported by the Associated Press

“I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” Rodman told Reuters in a telephone interview before he left Beijing for Pyongyang. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.”

Kim, the third of his line to rule North Korea, is a basketball fan and appeared to get on well with Rodman on the earlier visit, with the two of them pictured laughing, eating and drinking together and watching an all-star basketball match.

Rodman’s latest trip is being sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

Wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, the 6-foot 7-inch (2.01 metre) Rodman pushed through a throng of journalists on Tuesday as he made his way to his plane at Beijing’s international airport, a common waystation for travellers to North Korea.

Reporters by Reuters