WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump angrily criticized the father of one of the three UCLA basketball players freed earlier this month after being arrested in China for theft, and he said that he should have left them in jail.
Trump responded to the father of LiAngelo Ball, who on Friday downplayed the importance of the role Trump played in obtaining the release of the three players after one of them shoplifted a pricey pair of sunglasses from a store near their hotel.
“Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the 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!” Trump tweeted.
Trump on Nov. 15 claimed credit for the release of the three players, saying that it was thanks to his intervention with Chinese President Xi Jinping that they avoided “10 years in jail” in the Asian nation, where certain crimes that may be relatively minor in the US can carry hefty prison sentences.
The three players with the UCLA Bruins, arrived back in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, about a week after being arrested and accused of stealing the sunglasses in the city of Hangzhou.
Trump, who returned from his 13-day Asian tour this past week, visited Beijing shortly after the young athletes were arrested and spoke with Xi about the situation.
The case sparked media attention in part because Ball is the younger brother of Lonzo Ball, the new star player with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LiAngelo Ball was arrested along with Jalen Hill and Cody Riley and accused of shoplifting the sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next door to the hotel where the team was housed on a visit to China to play in a regional game sponsored by Chinese e-retail giant Alibaba.
Trump had tweeted on Nov. 15: “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?”
When the players did apologize and thanked the president at a press conference, Trump took to Twitter again on Nov. 16 to say: “To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You’re welcome, go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made ... your release possible and, HAVE A GREAT LIFE!”
He added: “Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”
UCLA has suspended the three players indefinitely.