For three UCLA freshman basketball players, including high-profile LiAngelo Ball, a nightmare situation of detainment in China has finally come to a close.
Last week, Ball, alongside fellow touted recruits Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested in Hangzhou, China, on allegations of shoplifting. Surveillance footage showed the freshmen swiping designer sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store as well as two others in the shopping mall near the team’s hotel. UCLA had traveled to China to play their season opener against Georgia Tech in a game organized by Alibaba, a Chinese web company that had recently purchased the rights to air Pac-12 basketball it China (“LiAngelo Ball, two other UCLA players released on bail after shoplifting arrest in China,” Washington Post, 11.07.2017).
For Ball, Riley and Hill, the potential consequences levied against them were more than frightening. Even the most petty of crimes can lead to serious repercussions in China, due to limited defendant rights. For misdemeanor charges to the ilk of shoplifting, Chinese prosecutors move swiftly, with an over 99 percent conviction rate. Many Chinese legal scholars speculated that the “UCLA Three” could have faced up to three to 10 years in prison or, at the very least, an extended hotel house arrest that would cut into their basketball season (“UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball Reportedly Could Dace 3-10 Years in China Prison,” NESN, 11.08.2017).
However, it was an unlikely supporter that has allowed the UCLA freshmen to avoid their charges and finally return to the United States on Tuesday. President Donald Trump successfully vouched for the player’s release in an appeal to China President Xi Jinping.
“What they did was unfortunate,” said President Trump. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. [China does] not play games” (“U.C.L.A. Players Returning Home After Trump Asks Xi for Help,” New York Times, 10.14.2017).
The successful pardoning of the UCLA players is good press in the mind of Trump. The President has been on a 12-day trip to Asia and now has something to hang his hat on when validating his personal rapport with President Xi. Throughout his administration, Trump has often tried to flaunt his cozy foreign relations with China, and the Li- Angelo Ball case might very well be the high-pro- file case that he needed.
The arrests gained a substantial amount of media attention, largely in part due to the weight of the Ball name. LiAngelo is the brother of Lonzo Ball, the number two overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in this year’s NBA draft. Arguably more notable, he is the son of the outlandish LaVar Ball, who has been widely scrutinized as being the perennial helicopter parent.
LaVar has kept his basketball-playing sons constantly in the news, beginning with his rejection of big-business sports companies through the launch of his own Big Baller Brand, which includes rookie Lonzo’s own signature shoe retailing for over $500, according to the company website. LaVar has also loudly claimed that he can kill Michael Jordan in one-on-one, that his own son was the world’s best player and that his youngest son LaMelo was wasting his time in high school, electing to instead homeschool him in preparation for collegiate and pro basketball (“The LaVar Ball Ridiculousness Scale”, The Ringer, 03.13.2017).
In an interesting parallel, LaVar has capitalized off of the same bold, defying style of rhetoric that led to Trump’s rise. As a result, the Ball family has elevated itself to the Kardashians of the sporting world. LaVar, Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo and company have been most recently followed by a reality television crew for the Facebook Watch program “Ball in the Family.”
Whenever LiAngelo likes it or not, the product the fame created for him by his father will mean that he will be closely examined by the public eye. Thus, the consequences of the shoplifting will go beyond just his upcoming team suspension, and will likely haunt and hinder him for the rest of his basketball career. Although his actions were wrong and foolish, it is important to keep in perspective that LiAngelo is still only 18. For athletes in the limelight, acting 18 is just not an option.