While President Trump tours China, three prominent University of California at Los Angeles men’s basketball players remain detained in the country after being arrested on Tuesday for allegedly shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store.
According to ESPN, the trio includes freshman Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, and LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. They were released on bail early Wednesday morning, but are required by Hangzhou police to remain at their hotel until the legal process concludes.
What does that process entail? China’s legal system is a far cry from that of the United States. If found guilty of “robbing public or private property using force, coercion, or other methods,” the three young men could face between three to 10 years in prison. Lowering the case to an “administration violation” instead of robbery would likely lessen the probability of prison time.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports reports typically a defendant could wait 30-37 days before being indicted. That means these star American basketball players could be sitting in their Hangzhou luxury hotel long enough for the luxury to wear off. Then, if they do get indicted, the odds aren’t in their favor. According to Wetzel’s reporting, there’s a 99.2 percent conviction rate.
Bottom line: These players are in hot international waters. It will require a lot more than a statement from UCLA or Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. Scott issued this statement: “We are very disappointed by any situation that detracts from the positive student-athlete educational experience that this week is about. Whether in the United States or abroad, we expect our student-athletes to uphold the highest standards. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
While the situation is dire for each of these student-athletes, it’s gained more media attention because of Ball. If you’re not familiar with the Ball family, consider them the Kardashian-equivalent to basketball. Instead of a matriarchy spearheaded by Kris Jenner, they’re a patriarch-like business run by father Lavar Ball.
He’s turned himself into a household name with brazen and often inflammatory interviews about his sons, and he created Big Baller Brand, an athletic company, through the success of eldest son Lonzo, this year’s second-overall pick in the NBA. Lavar and his wife traveled to China with the team, partly to film their Facebook-based reality show, currently in its second season.
The Ball family is as tied to Hollywood and the NBA as you can possibly get, two entities that have repeatedly bashed President Donald Trump. Fellow NBA superstars Steph Curry and Kevin Durant publicly refused an invitation to visit the White House with their championship-winning team. On the heels of that, about a month ago, the most popular face of the NBA, LeBron James, called Trump a “bum” in a tweet.
Well, LeBron, the man you called a bum may be the only hope now for LiAngelo Ball, a potential future NBA player and brother to a current player. Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. You could make a case the reason the men were released, an unusual move by generally stringent Chinese law enforcement, as a result of Trump’s visit, in a gesture of goodwill.
The White House press office declined comment at this time.
There are a lot of unknowns at this point. But there is a rich irony in the fact that the same man NBA players have derided might be key in facilitating the safe return of three promising young basketball players.