LiAngelo Ball and his teammates, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested on suspicion of shoplifting while in China with their teammates. Mr. Trump, who was in the middle of a tour of Asia, raised the case with President Xi Jinping of China, and the three players were allowed to return to the United States.
The president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, described to The Times how the episode had played out.
“Our president said to Xi, ‘Do you know anything about these knuckleheads that got caught allegedly stealing?’” Mr. Kelly said. Unaware of the episode, the Chinese president dispatched an aide to get more information. “The president was saying, ‘It’s not too serious. We’d love to see this taken care of in an expeditious way,’” Mr. Kelly added.
Mr. Kelly added, “I bet they learned a lesson in their lives.”
The president made it clear on Twitter that he expected the players to thank him for his involvement, claiming they faced 10 years in jail, though many legal experts weighed in to say it was unlikely the charges would have been that serious. Regardless, once the players were home, U.C.L.A. held a news conference to discuss the incident, and all three players thanked Mr. Trump. It was also announced that all three had been suspended indefinitely from U.C.L.A.’s basketball team.
Apparently satisfied with their level of thanks, Trump took to Twitter to acknowledge their gratitude, and added some more advice.
Controversy is nothing new for LaVar Ball. From his claims that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one back in college, to his proclamation that his son Lonzo was better than Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors even before Lonzo had played in the N.B.A., there is rarely a situation where LaVar Ball does not have a shocking opinion.
In the ESPN interview, Mr. Ball seemed to suggest that he did not believe his son’s criminal trouble in China was a serious situation.
“A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there,” he said. “Like I told him, ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.’ I’m from L.A. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses.”
Asked about the spat before his team’s game against the Nets in Brooklyn, Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, acknowledged that he had kept up with the back-and-forth, but offered a critical assessment of both parties.
“Modern life,” said Kerr, who has been critical of Trump in the past. “Two people seeking attention and they’re both getting it, so I’m sure both guys are really happy.”
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