WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that three UCLA basketball players who had been under arrest in China for shoplifting should thank him, after he obtained their release on his recent trip to the Asian giant.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning.
The three basketball players for the UCLA Bruins arrived back in Los Angeles late Tuesday night, almost a week after being arrested in China for stealing designer sunglasses in a store in the city of Hangzhou.
Trump, who just returned from a 13-day Asia tour, visited Beijing shortly after the US players were arrested and spoke about the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The US leader told reporters accompanying him on his Asia trip that when he learned of the incident he brought it up with Xi. He said that what the players did was “unfortunate” and that they could have been facing lengthy prison terms in China.
“I had a great conversation with President Xi,” Trump told reporters on board Air Force One on Tuesday. “He was terrific, and they’re working on it right now. And hopefully everything is going to work out.”
The case sparked media attention in part because one of the freshman athletes – LiAngelo Ball – is the younger brother of Lonzo Ball, the new star player with the Los Angeles Lakers, who last week became the youngest player in the history of the National Basketball Association to score a “triple-double” (garnering two-digit figures in three sets of statistics: points scored, blocks, assists or rebounds).
Meanwhile, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill arrived back in the US on Tuesday after being in China to play in a basketball game sponsored by Chinese e-trade giant Alibaba and being arrested by police on suspicion of shoplifting a pair of sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next door to their hotel.
According to The Washington Post, the sunglasses cost about $750 and Chinese law imposes a 1-2 year prison sentence for theft of items of that value.
At a press conference after their return, Riley said “I take full responsibility for the mistake I have made of shoplifting. I know this goes beyond me letting my school down – I’ve let the entire country down.”
“To President Trump and the entire United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene,” he added.