Approximately 100 news cycles ago, the nation was gifted with a feud that seemed inevitable: LaVar Ball, the most notorious sports dad in the United States, vs. Donald Trump, the President of the United States.
In November, Ball’s son, LiAngelo Ball, was one of three UCLA basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store on a team trip to China. At the time, Trump took credit for intervening on behalf of the players to get them “out of a long-term prison sentence” and back to the United States, and called Ball an “ungrateful fool” for not giving Trump credit for his kindness.
Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
But, a new ESPN report reveals that in this case, Ball had the upper hand. While Trump might have spoken to the Chinese president on the player’s behalf, he did not intervene until after everything was taken care of.
“The situation was already resolved by the time we heard about Trump’s involvement,” a team 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,” by the time the president stepped in.
The ESPN story directly contradicts a New York Times article from November 14:
In a New York Times story headlined “How Trump Helped Liberate UCLA ‘Knuckleheads’ from China,” Kelly said Trump’s intervention, as well as 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.
“The players were already checked into the hotel before the public discovered they were arrested,” a team source said. “They also were not under house arrest. It was our decision to keep them at the hotel until the situation was resolved. The charges were dropped, they weren’t reduced, and that happened two days before we heard from (White House Chief of Staff Gen. John) Kelly.”
The ESPN report included a few other new details, including the fact that the players stole from two other stores in addition to Louis Vuitton. One player hid a pair of stolen sunglasses in the hotel room of UCLA coach Steve Alford, it said. The news story also recounted how UCLA and Pac-12 officials were able to bail out the students without committing an NCAA violation.
There are no real winners here, but considering how well Trump reacted to Ball last year, it’s unlikely the President will be issuing any apologies, or showing any support for the Big Baller Brand any time soon.