LiAngelo Ball has spoken out for the first time on his arrest and detainment in China for shoplifting, and the picture he paints is one of a teenager who got swept up by others’ misdeeds and ended up in over his head in a hurry.
“We all went out one night, went to the malls, went to the Louis Vuitton store,” he told “The Today Show” on Tuesday morning. “People started taking stuff. Me just not thinking and being with them, I started taking stuff too.”
It wasn’t until later that Ball realized he’d made a serious error in judgment: “We left thinking we’ll just get away. You know how kids think,” he said. “I didn’t realize till I got back to the hotel—‘that was stupid.’”
Ball and two teammates were arrested by Chinese authorities and spent a day and a half in a Chinese prison—a “horrible” experience, Ball said, in a cement cell where no one around him spoke English.
It was the UCLA players’ good fortune to be detained at the exact same time President Trump was making a visit to the region, and Trump helped engineer the players’ release. Ball and the other players thanked Trump—a bit too slowly for the president’s liking—but Ball’s father LaVar remains adamant that the president’s desire for gratitude was unseemly.
“If [he] did it genuinely,” Ball said, speaking of the players’ release, “do you really need to come up to me and say, ‘Boy, you better thank me?’”
LaVar Ball, naturally, turned the moment into a branding effort, noting that he’d sent the White House three pairs of Big Baller Brand shoes — “red, white and blue, to show him we patriotic!”
LaVar pulled LiAngelo out of UCLA on Monday, sidestepping the suspension the university had handed down for the students’ shoplifting. The suspension could have been as long as three months, and as LiAngelo noted, “That’s the whole season, pretty much. That’s a long time doing nothing. I’d rather be playing.”
Over on CNN, during part of LaVar Ball’s media blitz, LaVar seemed to indicate that withdrawing was his decision, not LiAngelo’s. When asked what LiAngelo thinks of the withdrawal, LaVar said, “He doesn’t think anything. He said, ‘my dad’s going to do the right choice.’ We’re on the same page, trust me.”
LaVar Ball also doubled down on UCLA. “I’m not going to sit back and wait for a person to say ‘you know what, I think we’re going to let you guys play now,'” he said. “UCLA is not going to bring my boy down … You shouldn’t hang them on the cross this long for that.” Since one-and-done was always going to be the plan, LaVar said, they’ll just get started earlier on the next stage.
LaVar pledged to work LiAngelo into NBA-level shape, and then LiAngelo would follow in the footsteps of older brother Lonzo: “All these boys are going to get on the Lakers,” LaVar gloated. “Watch how I do this.” (The Lakers, who are already instituting rules to block LaVar’s access to the media, are surely thrilled with that idea.)
NBA scouts and observers don’t even project LiAngelo as a fringe prospect, but that doesn’t deter LaVar. “I ain’t got no fallback plan,” he said. “If I got a fallback plan, I’m going 80 percent this way and 20 percent to my fallback. I’m a hundred in, so I never get stopped.”
Oh, and LiAngelo’s withdrawal comes with another bonus for the Ball family: the opportunity to debut a new shoe in his honor. The Big Baller Brand G3 will hit shelves soon, with a retail value of $500. Don’t shoplift them; that would be stupid.
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