LOS ANGELES: Three American college basketball players arrested in China for shoplifting are back home in Los Angeles after US President Donald Trump intervened on their behalf.
UCLA freshmen players LiAngelo Ball – the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie star Lonzo Ball – and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill arrived on a flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles and exited the airport from the departures level, avoiding reporters awaiting the plane, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pacific-12 Conference of which UCLA is a member, said in a statement the players were on the flight and the trio were allowed to leave Hangzhou, where they were detained a week ago.
“The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities,” Scott said. “We are all very pleased that these young men have been allowed to return home to their families and university.
“We are grateful for the role that our Chinese hosts played, and for the courtesy and professionalism of the local authorities.”
Scott thanked Trump, the White House and the State Department for their assistance in resolving the case.
Trump said he personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to intervene on behalf of the three players during his two-day state visit to Beijing last week.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump said. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. They (the Chinese authorities) do not play games.”
Ball, Riley and Hill were arrested in Hangzhou ahead of a scheduled game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai.
According to ESPN, they were nabbed on suspicion of stealing from a Louis Vuitton store and later freed on bail but ordered to remain in Hangzhou.
The UCLA and Georgia Tech squads were in Hangzhou for a side trip to the headquarters of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Shoplifting can bring jail time in China depending on the value of the goods.
UCLA, one of the most storied names in US college basketball with 11 men’s NCAA championships, won Saturday’s game in Shanghai 63-60 without the three players. The rest of the team flew home afterwards.
Besides coinciding with Trump’s visit, the case drew attention in the United States due to the involvement of Ball, one of three high-profile basketball-playing sons of LaVar Ball.
The elder Ball has become a media personality by aggressively promoting his sons as future NBA superstars and had travelled to China on the trip to promote his Big Baller Brand shoe and apparel line. --AFP