A new report suggests that the fate of three UCLA basketball players arrested in China for shoplifting, may have been determined before President Donald Trump attempted to plead on their behalf.
Last November, UCLA players LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley were arrested by Chinese authorities for stealing merchandise from a shopping mall while the team was visiting Shanghai, China, for an exhibition game.
The three faced serious charges, but President Trump very publicly reached out to the Chinese government and asked for the players to be released. The players’ case was then quickly wrapped up, and the three were allowed to return home without further charges or legal action. It was an outcome for which President Trump took much credit.
Even liberal ESPN host Tony Kornheiser exclaimed that the Ball family should be grateful for the president’s intervention on behalf of the players.
However, a new report by ESPN suggests that Chinese authorities had already decided to drop the shoplifting charges and were in the process of releasing the players before Trump intervened on their behalf.
A newly released timeline of the events surrounding the players’ arrest suggests that Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly didn’t tell the players that the president’s office was reaching out to the Chinese until two days after the players had already had their passports returned.
The timeline also notes that the players return flights were arranged before Trump began saying he had gotten involved in the situation.
Still, the ESPN report does not allow for the fact that Trump Administration could have begun discussions with the Chinese prior to informing the players of their efforts.
Whatever did or didn’t happen with Trump’s involvement, the three players ultimately thanked Trump publicly for his efforts to secure their release. Despite the expression of thanks, LiAngelo Ball, who quit college to play basketball in Lithuania, later insisted that he only thanked Trump because the school made him do it.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.