BEIJING —Three UCLA men’s basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China are on their way back to the United States, the university said Tuesday, after President Trump personally intervened in the case with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
“UCLA Men’s Basketball student-athletes LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley are returning from China to Los Angeles at this time,” Alex Timiraos, associate director of communications for UCLA men’s basketball, said in a statement.
In his own statement, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said the matter “has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.”
“We are all very pleased that these young men have been allowed to return home to their families and university,” Scott said in the statement.
“We are grateful for the role that our Chinese hosts played, and for the courtesy and professionalism of the local authorities. We also want to acknowledge UCLA’s significant efforts on behalf of their student-athletes. Finally, we want to thank the President, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts towards resolution.”
Earlier, Trump acknowledged that he had asked the Chinese leader to help resolve the case of the three players who were arrested for shoplifting while in Hangzhou for a tournament last week.
“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 to return to the United States at the conclusion of a 12-day trip through Asia. “What they did was unfortunate. You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. [The Chinese] do not play games.”
Xi “was terrific, and they’re working on it right now,” Trump added. “And hopefully everything is going to work out. And I know they’re very grateful because they were told exactly what happened.”
When asked specifically whether Xi was helping to resolve the matter, Trump said: “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.”
Trump raised the arrests during a two-day state visit to Beijing, arriving after the three freshman players were accused last week of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel. Ball, brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball, and forwards Riley and Hill did not play in the team’s victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Shanghai.
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.
That the three escaped so lightly can only be attributed to the fact they are high-profile foreigners, who could command support from the presidents of the United States and China, as well as Alibaba, the influential e-commerce giant that sponsored UCLA’s game in Shanghai.
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. UCLA is one of the top basketball programs in the country, and the Ball family — including LiAngelo’s outspoken father, LaVar Ball — has become well-known in the sports world.
Trump spent most of two days with Xi, a stay that included a tour of the Forbidden City, a state dinner and meetings. The two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear threat, bilateral trade relations and a host of other issues. They made no previous public mention of the UCLA case.
With the players returning home after spending the past week at a luxury hotel in Hangzhou, the focus now shifts to what will happen next. All three players, as well as UCLA Coach Steve Alford and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, will provide statements to the media Wednesday morning, though they will not answer questions.
When asked specifically whether any additional punishment from the school over the incident would be discussed, a spokesman for the program said, “Many of these questions will be answered Wednesday, as best as they can at this time, in the remarks from the aforementioned individuals.”
UCLA beat Georgia Tech, 63-60, in Shanghai on Friday in its opening game without the three freshmen. LiAngelo Ball’s older brother was drafted No. 2 overall in June’s NBA draft by the Lakers, but the family’s middle son is rated a three-star prospect and is not considered to be a future NBA talent. Hill and Riley are both four-star prospects.
UCLA’s next game is Wednesday night, when the Bruins will host the University of Central Arkansas. The rest of Ball’s family remains in Hong Kong, where the second of two pop-up stores for its shoe and apparel brand, the Big Baller Brand, is set to open Tuesday.
Nakamura reported from Manila. Bontemps reported from Los Angeles. Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.