Instead of sending a pair of Big Baller shoes to President Donald Trump as a thank you for his help persuading Chinese authorities to permit the UCLA three to return home, LaVar Ball did the one thing guaranteed to generate more attention for himself.
Ball downplayed Trump’s role in getting son LiAngelo Ball and two UCLA teammates back to the United States, perhaps laying the foundation for a feud between the sometimes thin-skinned commander-in-chief and basketball’s most boorish dad.
“”Who?” LaVar told ESPN on Friday night when asked about Trump’s involvement. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
LiAngelo Ball and fellow UCLA freshmen Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were detained eight days in China after police arrested them for shoplifting at three high-end stores in Hangzhou on Nov. 7. Trump intervened on their behalf during a previously planned two-day visit to Beijing, personally lobbying Chinese President Xi Jinping to look into resolving the case.
The morning after the UCLA three arrived back in Los Angeles, Trump was quick to take credit on Twitter. He noted the players were “headed for 10 years in jail” before he stepped in and posed the question, “Do you think the three UCLA basketball players will say thank you President Trump?”
Trump received the thank you he desired from each UCLA player last Wednesday during their first public comments about the incident. That should have ended Trump’s involvement in the matter until LaVar fanned the flames with his ill-advised comment to ESPN.
If this results in a war of words between LaVar and Trump, it will be the quintessential 2017 quarrel. The feud would also be laced with irony considering these two outspoken attention seekers are more similar than they would probably care to admit.
Both make outrageous statements to ensure they remain in the media limelight. Both have appeared on reality TV shows and in WWE matches. Both are polarizing figures who provoke strong reactions, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
In his only previous comment about the shoplifting incident, LaVar told an ESPN reporter in China that it “ain’t that big of a deal.” He doubled down on that stance Friday night even after the embarrassing saga received global media attention and required the intervention of two world leaders to resolve.
“Like I told [LiAngelo], ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes,'” LaVar told ESPN. “I’m from L.A. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing.”
LaVar’s audacious comments will no doubt increase his public stature and awareness of the Big Baller Brand, but his defiant stance can only hurt his son. Not only is LaVar extending the incident’s run atop the news cycle, he also could be goading UCLA administrators into sending a message that this was a big deal by handing LiAngelo and his teammates a longer suspension.
LiAngelo was far more accountable than his dad two days earlier while reading a prepared statement to a throng of reporters.
“I’m grateful to be back home, and I will never make a mistake like this again,” he said. “I’m extremely sorry to those who I have let down.”
LaVar reportedly was set to hold a news conference in China the day after LiAngelo’s arrest until legal counsel persuaded him to stand down. The lawyers were undoubtedly afraid the elder Ball would make some outlandish statement that would rile the Chinese authorities into making an example out of the three UCLA players instead of showing lenience.
The comments Ball made Friday night are proof the lawyers were right not to trust him.
Put a microphone in front of LaVar Ball, and consequences be damned, he will always say whatever he thinks will garner the most attention.
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