“I should have left them in jail!” President Donald Trump tweeted in reference to the UCLA basketball players arrested in November for shoplifting in China. According to a new report from ESPN’s Arash Markazi, though, Trump’s involvement didn’t come until the players had already resolved the case and made plans to return to Los Angeles.
Three Bruins freshmen—LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill—were arrested on Nov. 7 for shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store the day before. They surrendered their passports and were allowed to return to the team hotel after paying bail.
On Friday, Nov. 10, according to Markazi, the players were given back their passports and bail money and the charges were dropped. They would be headed home soon, “but there was a secret handshake agreement between school officials and Chinese authorities that the players would not leave until Tuesday, one week after they had been detained.”
It wasn’t until two days later, five days after the players were arrested, that Trump learned of the situation and decided to step in.
“The situation was already resolved by the time we heard about Trump’s involvement,” Markazi quotes one team source as saying. “That’s not to take away from the fact that he got involved, but the players already had their passports back and their flights booked to go home Tuesday night when [White House chief of staff] Gen. [John] Kelly called the players.”
The amount of credit Trump should or should not have been given for bringing the players home became a massive point of contention in the ensuing days.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?” Trump tweeted on Nov. 15. “They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
When the players held a press conference later that day, all three did thank Trump. One person with UCLA told Markazi the players were instructed to thank Trump because the school couldn’t be sure how involved Kelly and the president had been “behind the scenes.” The source also said the school didn’t want to “create another story by not thanking him.”
Trump got no such thank you from LaVar Ball, however.
“Who?” Ball previously told Markazi when asked about the president’s role. “What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
During an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo the day after that quote was published, Ball repeatedly suggested that Trump’s role was not as significant as the president had made it out to be.
“Did he help the boys get out? I don’t know,” Ball said. “If I was going to thank somebody, I’d probably thank [Chinese] President Xi. ... Somebody can make a suggestion and somebody can do something. You’ve got people that make suggestions and people that do things.”