President Donald Trump intervened to help the three UCLA men's basketball players, including LiAngelo Ball, who were arrested for shoplifting while in China for a tournament last week.
Trump, while visiting Beijing last week as part of a five-nation Asia tour, personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the case of the three freshmen players arrested in Hangzhou, people familiar with the situation told the Washington Post on Monday.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in an email to the newspaper that Trump raised the issue with Xi.
Ball, the brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, and UCLA teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were questioned Tuesday about allegedly stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team's hotel in Hangzhou, where the Bruins had been staying before leaving for Shanghai to face Georgia Tech on Saturday. They were arrested Tuesday and released on bail early Wednesday morning. Since then, the trio is being required by local police to stay at the Hangzhou hotel until the legal process is complete.
A source with firsthand knowledge of the investigation told ESPN that the three players could be in Hangzhou for "a week or two." The source noted that there is surveillance footage of the players shoplifting from three stores inside of a high-end shopping center, which houses Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Salvatore Ferragamo stores.
Following the Bruins' season-opening 63-60 win over Georgia Tech in Shanghai, the UCLA team returned to the United States on Saturday without the three freshmen, according to ESPN.
After Trump raised the matter with the Chinese president, Xi promised to look into the case and ensure that the players are treated fairly and expeditiously, a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation told the Washington Post.
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has been in touch with the families of the players and has spoken with UCLA coach Steve Alford, according to the Post source. Kelly remains in contact with Chinese authorities, and the anonymous U.S. official told the newspaper that charges against the three players have been reduced and that the case is headed toward a resolution.
Police arrived early Tuesday morning at the Hyatt Regency in Hangzhou, where both UCLA and Georgia Tech were staying ahead of their matchup in Shanghai. Three players were questioned from each team.
Ball, Riley and Hill were taken to the police station in Hangzhou, where they were kept for a number of hours, according to ESPN. UCLA representatives, including Alford, were at the police station along with Ball, Riley and Hill before they were released around 4 a.m. ET Wednesday
Alford rejoined the rest of UCLA's team in Shanghai on Wednesday morning after the players were released.
LaVar Ball, his wife Tina and son LaMelo had breakfast with the UCLA team in Shanghai on Wednesday morning. As he was leaving the hotel, LaVar Ball downplayed LiAngelo's arrest, telling ESPN: "He'll be fine. He'll be fine. Everybody making it a big deal. It ain't that big of a deal."
LaVar Ball later released a statement about the allegations against LiAngelo: "It is a very unfortunate situation that the Ball family and UCLA has to deal with at this particular time. We will comment shortly."