Report: Donald Trump misled the public about freeing UCLA basketball players

President Donald Trump wasn’t entirely truthful about saving three UCLA basketball players stranded in China for shoplifting, according to a new ESPN report.

Twelve hours after being arrested for stealing sunglasses and beaded bracelets at Louis Vuitton and two other stores in Hangzhou, China, UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were released on bail with their passports withheld after returning the items, according to ESPN’s Arash Markazi. They were free to do as they please in the city as the situation was being resolved by UCLA And Pac-12 officials, with help from Alibaba chairman Tsai and the Federation University Sports China.

Two days later, on Friday, Nov. 10, the shoplifting charges against Ball, Hill and Riley were dropped, the bail was returned, and their passports were released on one condition, the report said. The players, now embroiled in reports of an international incident, were not permitted to leave for Los Angeles until Tuesday, a week after their arrest and three days after their UCLA teammates returned home.

“It was important for [Chinese authorities] that the players were left back for a couple of days after the rest of the team flew home,” a UCLA source told ESPN. “We agreed not to say anything and not comment until they returned home. They wanted there to be some kind of punishment and avoid the perception that they got off easy. Their flights were switched from Saturday night to Tuesday night, so they were going back home 72 hours after the rest of the team. So, it wasn’t like we found out Tuesday morning they were coming home that day. We knew. That was already the plan Friday morning.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, as the three players prepared to make their first public statements since the incident became global news, Trump, as he is wont to do, took to Twitter to make it about Trump:

According to Trump, who was on an Asian tour at the time, he didn’t contact Chinese president Xi Jinping about the players until Sunday, Nov. 12, after the situation had reportedly been resolved. So, when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called UCLA officials that day to tell them Trump was “very optimistic that this would be taken care of in short order,” the players already knew their fate.

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

The players were encouraged to and did thank Trump, if only to “not create another story by not thanking him,” ESPN reported, but LiAngelo’s father LaVar Ball is not one to avoid stories. Days later, when he got in front of a microphone, LaVar said when asked of Trump’s involvement, “Who? What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

To which Trump responded:

LaVar Ball, seizing the opportunity, doubled down, telling CNN, “If he helped, I would say thank you.”

And Trump upped the ante, too:

So, there is our president, demanding credit for accomplishing nothing.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!