November 8, 2017 at 10:45 PM
Three UCLA basketball players — including a younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie sensation Lonzo Ball — remained held Thursday at a Chinese luxury hotel after they were arrested this week for allegedly shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou.
LiAngelo Ball, plus four-star recruits Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were in Hangzhou, where the alleged incident occurred, while the rest of the UCLA team proceeded, as scheduled, to Shanghai to play Georgia Tech at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time Friday. UCLA Coach Steve Alford, who stayed in Hangzhou until his players were released from police custody, confirmed after arriving in Shanghai that the three players would not play in Friday night's game.
"We are aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes in Hangzhou, China," UCLA said in a statement. "The University is cooperating fully with local authorities on this matter, and we have no further comment at this time."
What happens next, however, is unclear. ESPN reported that the players will have to remain at the hotel until the situation is resolved — something that could take "days, weeks or months." A State Department official told The Washington Post in an email that it is "aware of reports of three U.S. citizens arrested in China and subsequently released on bail in China. We stand ready to provide appropriate consular assistance for U.S. citizens. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."
Meanwhile, China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a regular news conference Wednesday, said, "I don't have details of this affair, but what I can tell you is that China has circulated a notice to the United States according to the relevant regulation of the China-U.S. Consular Treaty. China handles the affair according to law and will guarantee the legitimate rights of the parties involved according to law."
Wang Fu, a criminal defense lawyer based in Beijing, said although there is no law banning the players from leaving China while released on bail, they were unlikely to be allowed to leave the country.
Verdicts in such cases, when there is sufficient evidence, can be reached quickly, according to Wang. He also believes authorities were "lenient" when they allowed bail, given the profile of the case. "Maybe it's because it involves foreign nationals of influence," he said.
This would be a salacious story on its own — it's not every day college basketball players are arrested overseas. But the inclusion of Ball — a younger brother of Lonzo, the rookie point guard who already has become the face of the Los Angeles Lakers, and the son of LaVar, the brazen family patriarch attempting to launch his own shoe and apparel company, Big Baller Brand — amplifies it to international news.
Every game Lonzo Ball plays for the Lakers is scrutinized. While the team has gone out of its way to try to anoint him its next superstar — President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson himself has said Lonzo is going to usher in a new era of the "Showtime" Lakers — Ball's father has engineered a nearly nonstop sideshow to enhance the family's profile. LaVar Ball has become a constant presence on television — particularly ESPN — and has doubled as a way to promote the family's company, which is ubiquitous whenever any of them are in public.
The company website offers three signature shoes for purchase: the "ZO2: Prime Remix," the initial Lonzo signature shoe, which retails for $495; a version autographed by Lonzo that retails for $995; and a signature shoe for youngest son LaMelo — still just a junior in high school — that sells for $395.
While the eldest son remains in the United States with the Lakers — who visited the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night in a game being marketed by ESPN as "Lonzo Wednesday" — the rest of the Balls, including LaVar's wife, Tina, are in China filming episodes of "Ball in the Family," the Facebook reality show that already has been picked up for a second season.
The family also is in China to promote the opening of two pop-up stores later this month — one in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong — for its nascent company. As a sign of the seriousness of the situation at hand, LaVar Ball — who basically has never seen a microphone he doesn't like — wound up not holding a news conference scheduled for Wednesday morning Eastern time, telling ESPN it was "due to the legal nature of the matter."
Later Wednesday, LaVar Ball told ESPN, "I'm going to wait until I get some more intel on what's going on, and then I can tell you what's up.
"He'll be fine. He'll be fine. Everybody making it a big deal. It ain't that big of a deal."
How big of a deal it is, exactly, remains to be seen. The maximum sentence for stealing goods in China varies, depending on the value of what has been alleged to be stolen. Stealing goods worth between 1,000 and 2,500 yuan ($150 to $380), for example, comes with a maximum sentence of six months but could result in merely a fine.
Anyone convicted of stealing goods for more than that amount, however, would face jail time. Someone convicted of stealing goods worth between 7,000 and 10,000 yuan ($1,050 to $1,510) would face between two and three years in jail under Chinese law.
Louis Vuitton men's sunglasses cost $435 to $1,990, according to the company's U.S. website.
According to the website China Law Translate, shoplifting can be considered either a crime or an administrative violation, and the penalty handed down can vary greatly.
That the players involved are teenagers could reduce the severity, as well as whether they show a willingness to make the situation right. That could include displaying forgiveness, paying compensation and admitting wrongdoing.
Unlike older brother Lonzo, who was a top-five recruit nationally and went on to be the No. 2 pick in June's NBA draft, and younger brother LaMelo, a top-20 recruit nationally who also committed to UCLA, where he is scheduled to begin play in 2019, LiAngelo was a solid but unspectacular basketball prospect, generally rated as a three-star (out of the traditional five) player by recruiting sites. He isn't viewed as a future NBA prospect.
In the team's lone exhibition game, a 111-80 victory over Cal State Los Angeles on Nov. 1, Ball had 11 points, five assists and three steals in 16 minutes off the bench. Riley had eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes in the exhibition, while Hill didn't play.
Simon Denyer and Luna Lin in Beijing contributed to this report.
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