Opinion writer

To relieve the dramatic tension created in his tragedies, Shakespeare would use comic relief to calm down the audience. The tragic performance unfolding in today's White House is also producing tension, riling up some of the strongest emotions about an American president in modern history.

It might be tempting, therefore, to regard this week's staging of the byplay between LaVar Ball and President Trump over UCLA basketball players in China as the use of comedy to allow for the release of emotions built up in the viewing of the ongoing Trump tragedy.

That would be a mistake. The Ball-Trump scene should not be treated as comedy, even though the show put on by the two men might have served to distract. There was nothing humorous about it.

It was a dreadful performance.

To recap: Three UCLA basketball players were arrested for shoplifting during a team trip to China this month. One of the players, LiAngelo Ball, is the son of LaVar Ball, owner of Big Ballers Brand, which sells athletic shoes and clothes.

While in China during his Asia tour, Trump raised their case with President Xi Jinping, including the possibility of their returning home. The players were released and promptly suspended by their team.

That should have been the end of the story.

Not, however, with someone as self-centered and emotionally needy as Donald Trump. When he got back home from his 12-day Asian trip, Trump tweeted, "Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you to President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!"

Ten years? As The Post reported, the sunglasses in the Louis Vuitton store where the alleged shoplifting took place are priced around 4,900 yuan ($750). Under Chinese law, anyone stealing goods worth between 4,000 and 7,000 yuan faces a maximum of two years in jail.

Be that as it may. To think: the president of the United States fishing for compliments from a trio of rightfully shamed college athletes. They did, however, thank Trump and apologize for their actions during a news conference the day after they arrived home.

Again, it should and would have ended there were it not for the dad who played down Trump's role in securing his son's release. Asked by ESPN about Trump's intervention, Ball said: "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out."


LaVar Ball, father of LiAngelo Ball. (John Locher/AP)

In reality, most people had never given LaVar Ball a thought before his son got busted.

And the father would have faded by the next news cycle were it not for Trump's need to have all eyes on him, to be seen as a savior and have his gratitude recognized.

The president weighed in with a tweet storm:

"LaVar Ball, 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!"

"Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. . . . Very ungrateful!"

Honey is to bees what a big talker such as LaVar Ball is to ratings-hungry TV shows. And CNN was all over that honeycomb.

Monday's interview with Ball must have had producers in the CNN control room jumping for joy. Ball was having the time of his life mixing it up with Chris Cuomo, making digs at Trump, all while promoting his brand. Thanks to Trump's dust-up with Ball, Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood estimated that the Big Baller Brand has received about $13.2 million in free digital and TV advertising since the two blowhards began trading barbs.

The interview tipped an already unbalanced Trump over the edge. In early Wednesday morning tweets, Trump denounced Ball as an "ungrateful fool." He took full credit for the release of the players — "IT WAS ME. Too bad" — along with a swipe at the father: "LaVar is just a poor man's version of Don King, but without the hair."

"Who do these uppity black men think they are?" Trump seemed to be asking. "There's that Colin Kaepernick and those arrogant NFL players standing up by kneeling down in defiance of white benefactors, and that loudmouthed father with the temerity to talk back to a powerful white man who went out of his way to do him and his kid a favor. Don't they know their place? Well, I'm going to put them back in it."

All this from Trump, as cascading accounts of sexual misconduct roil the nation, an alleged predator of young girls is poised to enter the Senate, major legislation is stirring Congress and challenges are pressing abroad.

And therein lies the tragedy: The Twitterer who believes he is faultless, accepts only praise, rages at criticism, demands gratitude, puffs up himself and deprecates everybody else is president of the United States.

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