Trump says he 'should have left American basketball players arrested in China in jail'

Emily Shugerman

President Donald Trump has suggested that he should have left three American basketball players imprisoned in China because he did not like the comments made by one of their parents.

"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," Mr Trump tweeted. "I should have left them in jail!"

The President later followed up his initial tweet with another, six hours later, which added: “Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!”

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested in China earlier this month for shoplifting sunglasses before the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) season opener in Shanghai. They were released last week after the situation was "resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities," according to Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pacific-12 athletic conference.

Mr Trump claimed he personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his help in the case. On Wednesday, the day after the players were released, he tweeted: "Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!"

But Mr Ball's father, LaVar, told ESPN that Mr Trump had little to do with the players' release.

“What was he over there for?" he asked of the President's trip to China. "Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

While the elder Mr Ball said he was happy with the way things were handled, he added: "A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there. Like I told [LiAngelo]: ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes'."

That same day, White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino fired back at the elder Mr Ball from his personal Twitter account.

"Wannabe @Lakers coach, BIG MOUTH @Lavarbigballer knows if it weren’t for President @realDonaldTrump, his son would be in China for a long, long, long time!" Mr Scavino wrote. The President issued his tweet the next day.

The players were arrested in early November after shoplifting from three stores near their hotel, according to UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. Police identified them after searching their bags and finding the stolen items.

The charges were dropped after the players admitted guilt, school officials said. The players have been suspended from their team indefinitely.

All three players thanked Mr Trump and apologised for their actions in a press conference shortly after their release.

"To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf," Mr Riley said in his statement on Wednesday. "We really appreciate you helping us out."

Mr Trump has previously feuded with members of other sports teams – most notably, with the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. In September, Mr Trump suggested that any players who "took a knee" should be fired.

Just last month, the President tweeted: "Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!"

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