It had been nearly two full days since Trump last mentioned the elder Ball by name — and in the intervening hours, Ball had been on CNN, saying that he had nothing to be thankful for when it came to his son and his president.
“How’d he help? If he helped, I would say thank you,” Ball told CNN.
As for who had helped free LiAngelo Ball from China, the president said Wednesday: “IT WAS ME.”
LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA men’s basketball players were arrested for shoplifting while in Hangzhou for a tournament. They returned to the United States last week and were summarily suspended by their team.
Trump said last week that he had personally intervened in the case with his Chinese counterpart, asking Xi to help resolve the case.
When the president returned from a 12-day trip through Asia, he wrote on Twitter: “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you to President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
Enter LaVar Ball, who was asked by ESPN about Trump’s role in securing his son’s release.
“Who?” Ball said. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
Trump fumed, tweeting Sunday: “I should have left them in jail!” (The White House later said Trump wasn’t serious, calling it “a rhetorical response to a criticism by the father.”)
But the following night, the outspoken Ball went on CNN and took aim at the president.
“You heard what he tweeted,” he told anchor Chris Cuomo. “He tweeted that cause he’s mad at me, ‘I should have left their asses in jail.’”
Ball said insisted that Trump has overstated his role in freeing the three Americans and added that if he would thank anyone, it would be Xi.
But, he added: “I don’t have to go around saying thank you to everybody.”
The State Department typically takes the lead on cases involving U.S. citizens who are arrested abroad, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was aware of the case, officials said.
Trump raised the arrests during a two-day state visit to Beijing, arriving after the three freshman players were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel.
“The basketball players, by the way — I know a lot of people are asking — I will tell you, when I heard about it two days ago, I had a great conversation with President Xi,” Trump said after boarding Air Force One in Manila at the conclusion his Asia trip. “What they did was unfortunate. You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. [The Chinese] do not play games.”
When asked specifically whether Xi was helping to resolve the matter, Trump said last week: “Yes, he is. And he’s been terrific. President Xi has been terrific on that subject.
“But that was not a good subject. That was not something that should have happened.”
The sunglasses in the Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou are priced at or around 4,900 yuan ($750).
According to Chinese law, anyone stealing goods worth between 4,000 and 7,000 yuan faces between one and two years in jail, although the sentence can be mitigated if they confess, show remorse and pay compensation.
Tim Bontemps in Los Angeles, Simon Denyer in Beijing and Kyle Swenson and Cindy Boren in Washington contributed to this report, which has been updated.