Blog Briefing Room

UCLA players’ release from China secured before Trump got involved: report

President Trump reportedly had less impact than he claimed on the release of three UCLA basketball players detained in China last year, according to a new report Friday.

LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were arrested and detained on shoplifting charges in November while in China for a game. 

Trump took credit for intervening and negotiating the players’ release, but a new report from ESPN finds that the charges had been dropped and the players’ passports returned two days before the White House told them it was involved.

A source told ESPN that the players’ return flights were already secured by the time White House chief of staff John Kelly called to tell the players that the White House was getting involved.

It is not clear whether Trump intervened before his chief of staff informed the players.

The players were released on bail within 24 hours, but UCLA officials reportedly appeased Chinese officials by agreeing to keep the players in China an extra 72 hours after the rest of the team returned home to “avoid the perception that they got off easy,” an unnamed team source told ESPN.

The incident happened on a Tuesday, and the players returned to the U.S. on the following Tuesday.

Trump was in China that weekend and raised the subject with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reportedly at a Sunday night dinner.


“The situation was already resolved by the time we heard about Trump’s involvement,” one team source claimed to 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 Tuesday night when Gen. Kelly called the players.”

Trump took credit for the players’ release, wondering in a tweet if the players would “say thank you President Trump” for securing their release.”

The players did thank Trump at a press conference, but ESPN’s source said that they just didn’t want to “get into it with the president.”

LiAngelo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, criticized Trump for taking credit for his son and teammate’s release.

Trump then fired back, saying “I should have left them in jail!” The two exchanged insults for days, with Trump also calling Ball an “ungrateful fool” and a “poor man’s version of Don King.”

Tags Donald Trump John Kelly

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video