While staying in Hangzhou for the UCLA basketball team’s tour in China, three freshmen—LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill—visited the Louis Vuitton store next to their hotel and are said to have pilfered some sunglasses. On November 7, they were arrested for shoplifting. Then they got bailed out the next morning. They continued to stay at the hotel along with a UCLA representative, but missed the following game and didn’t return home with the team.

What happened

This hotel chain is designed to suck, but they didn’t see much of it.

As ESPN reports:

A source with firsthand knowledge of the investigation said the players could be in Hangzhou for “a week or two.” The source noted that there is surveillance footage of the players shoplifting from three stores inside of a high-end shopping center, which houses Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Salvatore Ferragamo stores.

Bruins coach Steve Alford declined to discuss the matter after the team’s win.

Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo’s brother — on Saturday said his father LaVar called him Friday night and told him the family is staying in China with LiAngelo and that “we are handling it out here, so that’s a good sign.”

Hangzhou police arrived early Tuesday morning at the Hyatt Regency, where UCLA and Georgia Tech were staying ahead of their game, and questioned three players from each team. Team representatives and interpreters were with the players during that time, according to a source.

Afterward, LiAngelo Ball, Riley and Hill were taken to the police station in Hangzhou, where they were kept for a number of hours. UCLA representatives, including Alford, were at the police station along with the players.

[…]

LaVar Ball, and LiAngelo’s brother LaMelo Ball, who have been in China, visited LiAngelo on Thursday. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero visited all three players Friday.

So all told, it’s a smaller-scale version of the 1997 incident where several members of TSU’s Ocean of Soul marching band helped themselves to $22K of consumer electronics in Tokyo. Once more, some college students touring in Asia got busted for shoplifting, causing a minor international incident, and unfortunately gave the locals a bad impression of Americans. This time, the case resulted in arrests, and the President interceded on their behalf.

The aftermath

As Reuters reports:

The three players — LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill — remain suspended from the University of California, Los Angeles, basketball team indefinitely, coach Steve Alford told a news conference.

All three apologized and thanked Trump for helping secure their release by raising the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit, in their first public comments since being detained.

[…]

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said the students were released by the Chinese police after paying $2,200 bail.

Guerrero said that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called the students over the weekend to assure them that the government was working on their release. After the players’ release, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials said the case had been resolved according to law.

All told, being collegiate athletes—and thus minor celebrities, because sportsball is basically a religion—means they got more than the common citizen’s ration of perks. They were accompanied every step of the way by a school representative, and LiAngelo was in contact with his family. Cash was available to bail them out, so they didn’t have to stay in pretrial detention. In China, that can last up to a month, or considerably more if authorities aren’t following procedure. Rather than being prosecuted, these ones got off with a public apology. Chinese prison certainly is no walk in the park.

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Finally, the Presidency seldom gets involved on behalf of those who get in hot water over petty crime. The State Department does try to look out for Americans overseas, but realistically, most tourists can expect to get punished by the standards of the country they’re visiting if they get themselves in trouble. These kids fared much better than ordinary students who flout local laws while abroad. Hopefully it was an eye-opening experience and they’ve learned their lesson. If so, then they won’t end up like all too many spoiled athletes.

The reaction

Per Fox News:

“I would like to thank President Trump and the United States government for the help that they’ve provided as well,” LiAngelo Ball said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf,” another player, Cody Riley, said. “We really appreciate you helping us out.”

“Thank you to the United States government and President Trump for your efforts to bring us home,” the third player, Jalen Hill, said.

But earlier in the day, Trump was apparently hearing crickets from the trio and asked where was the gratitude.

“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” the president tweeted.

In contrast to the belated expressions of gratitiude, LiAngelo’s father wasn’t too impressed. Again per ESPN:

“Who?” LaVar Ball told ESPN on Friday, when asked about Trump’s involvement in the matter. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

[…]

“As long as my boy’s back here, I’m fine,” LaVar Ball told ESPN. “I’m happy with how things were handled. A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there. Like I told him, ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.’ I’m from L.A. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing.

“Everybody gets stuck on the negativity of some things and they get stuck on them too long. That’s not me. I handle what’s going on and then we go from there.”

Personally interceding with the President of China was no big deal? Really?

Spending years of their prime locked up in a developing country would’ve been a life-changing event for the students. Chinese prison involves slave labor and meager rations, and ten years might indeed have been on the table for theft. (That’s not too bad by Chinese standards; egregious thefts or repeat offenses can get the death penalty, and the prisoner’s organs may be harvested.) Quite likely, that would’ve derailed their athletic careers, in which case LiAngelo following his brother Lonzo’s footsteps into the NBA would be impossible.

Trump fires back

This is someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

The Donald wasn’t amused by the father’s display of ingratitude, making him wish he’d let them twist in the wind:

Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!

If this took place a year ago and Obama had been the one to arrange their release following the dumb stunt, perhaps the reaction would’ve been different. LaVar’s show of disrespect demonstrates the proverb that no good deed goes unpunished.

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