- President Donald Trump is said to have intervened to facilitate the release of three UCLA basketball players arrested on charges of shoplifting in China in November.
- But a new report from ESPN indicates Trump had a smaller role – something LaVar Ball, the father of one of the players, contended at the time, sparking a feud with the president.
- According to the report, the players’ charges had been dropped and their flights home booked by the time the White House got involved.
In November, three UCLA men’s basketball players – LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill – were arrested on charges of shoplifting in Hangzhou, China.
The incident became an international sports story, with reports that the players were under house arrest in their hotel and questions about when they could come back to the US. Even President Donald Trump was said to have asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help facilitate the players’ return.
But according to a new report from ESPN’s Arash Markazi citing multiple sources who were in China at the time, Trump’s involvement in the case may have been overstated.
The report says that on Monday, November 6, Ball, Riley, and Hill stole sunglasses from three stores in Hangzhou, the most expensive from Louis Vuitton. The next day, Louis Vuitton alerted the police, and security cameras pointed to the three players, who were arrested and taken to the police station for questioning.
Within about 24 hours, the report says, the players returned the sunglasses and were released on bail of about $2,200 – but their passports were withheld, so they could not leave the country. The school told the players to stay in their hotel rooms.
According to the report, UCLA officials and Chinese police made a deal to keep the players in China so that it did not look as if they got off easy. By Friday morning, the charges had been dropped, and the players had received their passports.
The White House later learned of the arrest via news reports. That Sunday, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, called the players to tell them Trump was getting involved, ESPN reported.
Markazi cited a team source as saying the issue had been settled by then.
“The situation was already resolved by the time we heard about Trump’s involvement,” the person said. “That’s not to take away from the fact that he got involved, but the players already had their passports back and their flights booked to go home Tuesday night when Gen. Kelly called the players.”
The players returned to Los Angeles early Tuesday. The next day, Trump tweeted: “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
According to the ESPN report, the school told the players to thank Trump in their prepared statements.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” a UCLA source told Markazi. “Everyone wanted to move on and put this behind us. Why get into it with the president? Let’s not create another story by not thanking him.”
UCLA suspended the three players indefinitely, though LiAngelo Ball later left and signed a deal to play in Lithuania.