Three University of California: Los Angeles (“UCLA”) men’s basketball team players have been allowed to return home after being arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were in Hangzhou, China to play an exhibition match against Georgia Tech, and while there, reportedly stole designer sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store. The student athletes were caught and arrested on November 8, and the trio had to stay in China while their teammates flew home. The players were released and allowed to return to the United States on November 14 only after the intervention of the U.S. government.
President Donald Trump played a significant role in the international affair by appealing to China’s President Xi Jinping in order to facilitate the release of the players. Trump arrived in China for a state visit on November 9, the day after the players were arrested for shoplifting, and he took the opportunity to intervene. In the days following the players’ arrest, Trump made several statements surrounding the incident, suggesting that the players faced a potential sentence of ten years in a Chinese prison, and thanking President Jinping for his assistance. While the theft of goods valued up to 10,000 yuan, or approximately $1,500, is normally punishable by up to three years in prison in China, the charges can be reduced and the overall sentence mitigated considering the age of the accused (teenage college freshmen in this case), cooperation from the players, and financial compensation for the stolen goods. The U.S. government’s efforts culminated in the players’ release on November 14, almost a week after the initial arrest.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Ball, Riley, and Hill spoke at a news conference, expressing their apologies and regrets for their actions. Furthermore, perhaps in response to one of Trump’s tweets demanding gratitude, the teens also thanked Trump for his intervention. However, while the athletes may have avoided international criminal sanction, they did not completely evade consequence; UCLA, which was silent throughout the shoplifting ordeal, has decided to suspend the players indefinitely for their actions. As for Trump, he made sure to advise the teens to be careful and be aware of the “many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life.”
Jason Colin is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).