LiAngelo Ball says he thanked Donald Trump only because UCLA made him do it

Jeff Eisenberg
LiAngelo Ball and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill originally thanked Trump in the prepared statements they read to reporters last month. (Getty Images)
LiAngelo Ball and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill originally thanked Trump in the prepared statements they read to reporters last month. (Getty Images)

LiAngelo Ball apparently wasn’t very sincere when he thanked President Donald Trump for helping him get permission to return home after his shoplifting arrest in China.

The former UCLA guard told a New York radio show on Wednesday morning that school officials instructed him to include a thank you to Trump in the prepared statement that he read to reporters last month the morning after he returned to Los Angeles.

“My school wanted to hear it,” LiAngelo told 105.1 FM’s “The Breakfast Club.” “Before I went up there, it was like, ‘You’ve got to thank him.’ I just threw him in there real quick right before I gave my speech.

“If they didn’t tell me to do it, it wouldn’t have been in there, to be honest.”

Whether LiAngelo and his teammates would express gratitude to Trump became a talking point when the President sent out a tweet that read, “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” The tweet came hours before UCLA held a news conference where the players publicly apologized for their crime and the school announced all three would be suspended indefinitely.

How big a role Trump played in helping LiAngelo and his teammates avoid jail time has been hotly debated.

The UCLA three had already been released from police custody and were staying in a luxury hotel in Hangzhou by the time Trump urged Chinese President Xi to help resolve the matter quickly during a previously planned diplomatic visit. Chinese legal experts told Yahoo Sports last month that Trump’s intervention likely sped up the legal process, but the fact the players were allowed to stay in the hotel was a sign the case was already being handled administratively and they were unlikely to go to trial or face jail time.

If UCLA pressured LiAngelo and his teammates to thank Trump, it was surely in hopes of preventing an already embarrassing saga from becoming an even bigger spectacle.

The shoplifting incident received global attention and required the intervention of two world leaders to resolve. It severely damaged UCLA’s reputation in a country of great importance to the university and hurt the school’s basketball program by landing three significant players on indefinite suspension.

Of course, UCLA’s attempt to make the story die down failed miserably. Later that week, LiAngelo’s infamously outspoken father goaded Trump into a war of words by downplaying the President’s role in his son’s release.

“If he helped, I would say thank you,” LaVar Ball said in an interview on CNN.

“I would have said thank you if he would have put them on his plane and taken them home. Then I would have said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Trump, for taking my boys out of China and bringing them back to the U.S.’ There’s a lot of room on that plane. I would have said thank you kindly for that.”

LaVar told “The Breakfast Club” on Wednesday that he has since mailed a peace offering to the White House in the form of some Big Baller Brand sneakers.

“Gave him three pairs, let him know how we roll,” LaVar said. “Red, white and blue. Show him we’re patriotic.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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