Thursday, November 16, 2017
End of the Unfortunate Incident (for now)
According to basketball head coach Steve Alford, the three players have been suspended indefinitely from the team. They will not travel with the team or suit-up for home games, and they will remain suspended as the players go through the university's disciplinary review process.
The trio — freshman players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill — were detained last Tuesday on suspicion of shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team's hotel in Hangzhou. ESPN reported Monday that Chinese authorities have surveillance video showing the players taking merchandise from as many as three upscale shops.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said Tuesday the players will to through the university's disciplinary process.
"I want to be clear that we take seriously any violations of the law," Block said. "In this particular case, both Athletics and the Office of Student Conduct will review this incident and guide any action with respect to the involved students. Such proceedings are confidential, which limits the specific information that can be shared."
LiAngelo Ball's brother is Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball.
Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to suggest that the three young men give thanks to him for intervening on their behalf. The players promptly did so.
Riley thanked President Donald Trump for his help resolving the shoplifting case against him and two of his teammates in China. "We really appreciate you helping us out," he said. Hill followed suit also thanking President Donald Trump for his help resolving the shoplifting case.
"President Xi has been terrific on that subject," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday. "But that was not a good subject. That was not something that should have happened....What they did was unfortunate. You know, you're talking about very long prison sentences. They do not play games."
It remains to be seen how long indefinite is - or what the players will do.
Below is the NY Times version:
How Trump Helped Liberate U.C.L.A. ‘Knuckleheads’ From China
By Mark Landler and Michael D. Shearnov, Nov. 14, 2017
MANILA — President Trump found out about the great U.C.L.A.-China basketball episode of 2017 when members of his staff saw it on CNN just before Mr. Trump’s dinner with the president of China in Beijing last week.
They learned that three American college basketball players — representing a storied sports program visiting China for an early-season game sponsored by one of China’s largest companies — had been arrested on Nov. 8, accused of stealing designer sunglasses at a high-end shopping mall.
The alleged offense was hardly life or death. But what had begun as a simple accusation of celebrity shoplifting threatened to escalate into a full-blown international incident just as Mr. Trump arrived in China on a 12-day mission through Asia, his first foreign trip to the region.
“These are law and order guys; they have pretty swift justice,” John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, said of the Chinese authorities in a telephone interview later. “An awful lot of American kids don’t realize that the kinds of things that in United States society we tolerate with a slap on the wrist, a lot of countries they take very seriously.”
In addition to Mr. Trump, the weeklong diplomatic drama involved the players themselves, who remained detained at their hotel in the provincial city of Hangzhou for most of the week; U.C.L.A., an elite American university with an international reputation; and the Chinese retail giant Alibaba, which sponsored the team’s visit.
In other cases, detained Americans have become geopolitical pawns, often trapped in a kind of legal limbo for months or years.
And in a few instances, the outcome has been horrific, as in the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student in North Korea who was tortured and later died after being detained on charges that he tried to steal a poster from his hotel.
But just as concern deepened about the fate of the three young athletes in China, their detention abruptly ended, aided, it seems, by Mr. Trump’s direct intervention with the country’s president, Xi Jinping. On Tuesday, the three players, including the star freshman LiAngelo Ball, the brother of the N.B.A. rookie Lonzo Ball, were allowed to leave their hotel and board a flight back to California.
“The three U.C.L.A. men’s basketball student-athletes involved in the incident with authorities in Hangzhou, China, are on a flight back home to Los Angeles,” the Pacific-12, the athletics conference to which the university belongs, said in a statement, adding that “the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.”
“We want to thank the president, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts towards resolution,” the statement said.
Mr. Kelly, who arrived back in the United States with Mr. Trump Tuesday night aboard Air Force One, provided details about the president’s diplomatic outreach on behalf of the U.C.L.A. players.
“Our president said to Xi, ‘Do you know anything about these knuckleheads that got caught allegedly stealing?’” Mr. Kelly said. Unaware of the episode, the Chinese president dispatched an aide to get more information. “The president was saying, ‘It’s not too serious. We’d love to see this taken care of in an expeditious way,’” Mr. Kelly added.
The three players had been accused of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store next to their hotel in Hangzhou, in eastern China, where they were preparing to play in a tournament. (Playing without the three freshmen, U.C.L.A. defeated Georgia Tech, 63-60, in Shanghai on Friday.)
Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump’s intervention, as well as diplomatic efforts by State Department diplomats, led to the reduction of the charges to the equivalent of misdemeanors as well as the release of the three players to their hotel, where they were placed under temporary house arrest. It was there that Mr. Kelly talked to Chris Carlson, an associate athletic director at U.C.L.A., and to the players on the phone the next day.
“To say the least, they were very apologetic,” said Mr. Kelly, who pointedly did not ask the student-athletes whether they had, in fact, attempted to steal the merchandise they were accused of taking. “They were just profuse in their apologies for embarrassing the country and embarrassing the team.”
Mr. Kelly told the players that Mr. Trump had intervened on their behalf and that he was “very optimistic that this would be taken care of in short order.”
In China, where the justice system has a very high conviction rate, theft can bring punishment ranging from a few days to years in prison. Mr. Kelly said that had the players been charged with the equivalent of felonies — because of the high cost of the merchandise — they could have received prison sentences of five to 10 years.
“I bet they learned a lesson in their lives,” he said.
Mr. Trump was uncharacteristically quiet about the players and their situation until his overseas trip was winding down. He did not tweet about the case as the players sat trapped in their rooms. American officials did not put out any statements about the situation.
But once he was headed home, Mr. Trump provided the first indications that the actions of the three young men had prompted a conversation at the highest of levels.
“I will tell you, when I heard about it two days ago, I had a great conversation with President Xi,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a brief conversation Tuesday before the students were formally allowed to leave their hotel. “He was terrific, and they’re working on it right now. And hopefully everything is going to work out.”
Mr. Trump called the alleged actions of the basketball players “unfortunate,” and grimly noted the toughness of the Chinese judicial system. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences,” the president told reporters. “They do not play games.”
Mr. Trump has made much of his personal rapport with Mr. Xi, who hosted a lavish state visit last week for the president in Beijing. The two leaders met again at an economic summit meeting on Sunday in Vietnam, where Mr. Trump raised the case of the detained basketball players.
“He’s been terrific,” the president said. “President Xi has been terrific on that subject.”
The warm presidential relationship appeared to pay off with the release of Ball, a freshman guard; and Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, both freshman forwards. Mr. Trump emphasized that it was a “very, very rough situation, with what happened to them.”
The highest-profile of the three who had been detained was Ball, the middle of three sons in a basketball-playing family so well known that it has its own reality show on Facebook, “Ball in the Family.” The eldest brother, Lonzo, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the youngest, LaMelo, is a high schooler who has committed to play at U.C.L.A. Their father, LaVar, has become a public figure, and has started a sports-apparel company, Big Baller Brand, to market both his sons and the family name.
The U.C.L.A. team’s trip to China had been seen as a way to raise the profile of the university in that country, possibly attracting students who have well-to-do parents and who want to study abroad. Many American universities in recent years have increasingly relied on tuition payments from foreign students.
The arrests of the three young men could have derailed efforts to bridge the cultural divide. Hours before their release, Mr. Trump told reporters that the incident “was not something that should have happened.”
But even then the president seemed to know something positive might be in the works. Asked if he expected to see the basketball players coming home soon, he answered: “I hope so. I hope so.”
Just hours later, they were on a plane, too.