In a not-so-shocking development linking the sports and political spheres, reports are surfacing that President Donald Trump overstated his role in assisting UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill with their shoplifting charges during a team trip to China last fall.
Per a Friday ESPN report by Arash Markazi, Chinese officials interrogated Ball, Riley, and Hill about the suspected thefts on November 7, 2017. The investigation took longer than expected due to the nature of the thefts and the procedures in place for confirming the merchandise was stolen.
“Each shoplifting incident was treated as its own separate case and required the players to once again travel to the stores individually, return what they had stolen and be identified by the employees working at the time,” Markazi wrote. “With the two stores across the street from Louis Vuitton being so close in proximity, that only required one round-trip drive for each player.”
By approximately November 8, the players had been bailed out, and by November 10, the shoplifting charges had been lifted. Hill, Ball, and Riley also had their passports withheld to prevent them from leaving the Hangzhou province, but they were allowed to travel freely within the city. UCLA officials instructed them to remain in their hotel rooms. Chinese officials changed the dates of the involved players’ return flights to Tuesday, November 14 to send a message, and UCLA officials agreed to the new flight schedule.
Multiple reports have White House chief of staff John Kelly calling the players on Sunday, November 12.
“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,” reported the New York Times on November 14.
Based on what an unnamed UCLA official told Markazi, the players’ charges were dropped, not reduced, and the players’ flights back to America were already booked by the time Trump got involved. The players were also not on house arrest, as UCLA officials required them to stay in their rooms.
The timeline of Trump and/or his camp overstating their involvement grew from there a day later, when Trump hopped on Twitter expressing thirst to be thanked for his work behind the scenes.
Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2017
One day after UCLA sequestered Hill, Riley, and Ball from the media, the players were back in the States and addressed the media in a press conference. They all thanked Trump for his help.
It would seem that Trump’s involvement in the matter—much like his hands—was small.