Three members of the University of California, Los Angeles, basketball team are en route to the United States following a week-long detainment in China. The players, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill, all freshmen, were questioned and told they would be unable to leave China with their teammates, who were playing in an exhibition tournament in Hangzhou, after surveillance footage indicated they shoplifted from stores in a high-end shopping center near their hotel.
President Trump deserves much of the thanks for their release, having worked with Chinese president Xi Jinping to negotiate a release during his two-week-long visit to Asia. Earlier today, Trump told reporters in the Philippines that he spoke to Jinping about releasing the players several times during their visit and that Chinese authorities were “working on it right now.” Trump criticized the players for their actions, saying “what they did was unfortunate,” but acknowledged that “what happened to them” was a “very, very rough situation.” Given the likelihood of “very long prison sentences” if charged with a crime by Chinese police, considering China’s high conviction rate and history of harsh sentencing for minor crimes, Trump explained that getting the players home quickly was crucial.
Larry Scott, commissioner of the PAC-12, the athletic conference to which UCLA belongs, did thank “the president” for his “efforts towards resolution” in a statement, but also made sure to express his gratitude “for the role that our Chinese hosts played, and for the courtesy and professionalism of the local authorities.” According to Scott, the matter has been resolved “to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities,” and the players’ sentence has been reduced. They will touch down in Los Angeles at around 5 p.m. today.