Remember back in November when Pres. Trump blasted three UCLA basketball players on Twitter and said it was only because he intervened that the players were saved from the horrors of Chinese prison after being caught shoplifting and allowed to return to the U.S.?
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
Well, it turns out that wasn’t the case, according to a new ESPN report.
Over the months since the incident, ESPN conducted interviews with several sources in China and constructed a timeline of the events from the shoplifting to their return home.
They found that, in fact, “UCLA And Pac-12 officials, with help from Alibaba chairman Tsai and the Federation University Sports China” had already negotiated the players’ release with one condition: that the three players not return home until 3 days after the rest of the team, for appearance’s sake.
All of this took place before Trump or his administration got involved, according to their own statements regarding when the first call was made on the players’ behalf.
Twelve hours after being arrested for stealing sunglasses and beaded bracelets at Louis Vuitton and two other stores in Hangzhou, China, UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were released on bail with their passports withheld after returning the items, according to ESPN’s Arash Markazi. They were free to do as they please in the city as the situation was being resolved by UCLA And Pac-12 officials, with help from Alibaba chairman Tsai and the Federation University Sports China.
Two days later, on Friday, Nov. 10, the shoplifting charges against Ball, Hill and Riley were dropped, the bail was returned, and their passports were released on one condition, the report said. The players, now embroiled in reports of an international incident, were not permitted to leave for Los Angeles until Tuesday, a week after their arrest and three days after their UCLA teammates returned home.
“It was important for [Chinese authorities] that the players were left back for a couple of days after the rest of the team flew home,” a UCLA source told ESPN. “We agreed not to say anything and not comment until they returned home. They wanted there to be some kind of punishment and avoid the perception that they got off easy. Their flights were switched from Saturday night to Tuesday night, so they were going back home 72 hours after the rest of the team. So, it wasn’t like we found out Tuesday morning they were coming home that day. We knew. That was already the plan Friday morning.”
President Trump didn’t call Pres. Xi until November 12, according to the administration, after the issue had been settled and the players’ return rescheduled.
ESPN’s source did acknowledge the administration did get involved on the players’ behalf even though the issue was resolved.
“The situation was already resolved by the time we heard about Trump’s involvement,” a source told ESPN. “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 Gen. Kelly called the players.”
Whether Trump knew the issue had already been taken care of beforehand doesn’t matter. He took to Twitter and boasted he was the one who arranged for the players’ release, publicly shamed them over getting a thank you, and engaged in a pissing match with one of the players’ famous dad, Lavar Ball.
Once again, it was another issue that should’ve gone virtually unnoticed outside the sports world and was turned into an international incident because our president has an itchy Twitter finger. That his boasting turned out to be for something he had no hand in simply exacerbates the national embarrassment.