Three UCLA basketball players — including star prospect LiAngelo Ball — held in China on suspicion of shoplifting charges got an assist from President Trump.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he contacted Chinese leader Xi Jinping to defuse the international incident and spur the release of the players. Ball, the younger brother of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, joined teammates Jalen Hill and Cody Riley on a flight back to Los Angeles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport Tuesday night, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The players had been detained by police in the Hangzhou as suspects in a reported shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store in that Chinese city.
UCLA’s basketball team had been in the country as part of a highly-touted event organized by the Alibaba Group Holding company, with the three players scheduled to make their freshman debut during a game on Saturday. Instead, the trio were placed under effective house arrest on the VIP floor of the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou since their questioning last Tuesday.
The news cast a pall on Trump’s meeting with Xi last week — particularly given the high profile of the Ball family.
But the president told reporters Tuesday that his “great conversation” with his Chinese counterpart helped end the potentially ugly situation.
“You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. They do not play games,” Trump told reporters.