UCLA play­ers ac­cused of shoplift­ing stay in China

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY SI­MON DENYER si­mon.denyer@wash­post.com Luna Lin con­trib­uted to this re­port.

shang­hai — It was sup­posed to be a shin­ing ex­am­ple of U.S.-China sport­ing co­op­er­a­tion and a chance for an elite group of stu­dents to learn from an­other cul­ture.

But Satur­day’s Pac-12 China Game be­tween the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les and Ge­or­gia Tech bas­ket­ball teams was over­shad­owed by three play­ers who weren’t even there, and by an en­tirely un­wel­come learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Three UCLA play­ers — in­clud­ing a younger brother of Los An­ge­les Lak­ers rookie sen­sa­tion Lonzo Ball — were stuck in a ho­tel more than 100 miles away af­ter be­ing ar­rested this week for al­legedly shoplift­ing from a store, or stores, in the lake­side city of Hangzhou.

Their team­mates, seem­ingly un­fazed by the holes in their squad, led for most of the game, and held off a late Ge­or­gia rally to close out a hard-fought con­test, 63-60. Both coaches praised their re­spec­tive teams’ fight­ing spirit, even if there was more ef­fort than ex­pe­ri­ence on of­fer in squads filled with rook­ies.

On Satur­day, the team ar­rived back in Los An­ge­les with­out the three fresh­man play­ers, ac­cord­ing to ESPN.

“It’s cer­tainly very un­for­tu­nate and very dis­ap­point­ing to me as com­mis­sioner of the con­fer­ence, when we’re guests in an­other coun­try, guests of our part­ners, that any of our stu­dents should be in­volved in this in­ci­dent,” Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott told a news con­fer­ence be­fore the game.

“That’s not the stan­dard we hold our stu­dents to, es­pe­cially when they are trav­el­ing and they are am­bas­sadors of their uni­ver­sity and the United States.”

Fresh­men LiAn­gelo Ball, Cody Ri­ley and Jalen Hill were re­port­edly ar­rested Tues­day morn­ing, ac­cused of shoplift­ing sun­glasses from a Louis Vuit­ton store next to their ho­tel, but were re­leased the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

ESPN, which broad­cast the game Satur­day and has been trav­el­ing with the squad, quoted a per­son with first­hand knowl­edge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as say­ing the play­ers could be in Hangzhou for “a week or two.”

Liza David, a spokes­woman for UCLA Ath­let­ics, told The Wash­ing­ton Post on Satur­day night that the uni­ver­sity had no com­ment on the play­ers de­tained in China.

The per­son also told ESPN that there is sur­veil­lance footage pur­port­edly show­ing the play­ers shoplift­ing from three stores in­side the high-end mall near the team’s ho­tel, which also houses Gucci, Yves Saint Lau­rent and Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo stores.

But staff mem­bers work­ing in the mall this week­end said they were only aware of the Louis Vuit­ton in­ci­dent.

In a base­ment of­fice where im­ages of the mall ap­pear on an ar­ray of screens, a pri­vate se­cu­rity of­fi­cer said po­lice ar­rived Tues­day morn­ing with a war­rant and took away a copy of footage from the pre­vi­ous night. He said po­lice were in­ter­ested in video show­ing two black men, ac­com­pa­nied by a wo­man who spoke Chi­nese, in the mall about 8 p.m. Mon­day night.

In­di­vid­ual stores also have their own se­cu­rity cam­eras, staff in the mall said.

In the Louis Vuit­ton store, most pairs of men’s sun­glasses were on sale for 4,900 yuan (about $750). Un­der Chi­nese law, any­one caught steal­ing goods worth be­tween 4,000 and 7,000 yuan faces be­tween one and two years in jail, although mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances can cut the sen­tence.

Po­lice in Hangzhou said the le­gal process for the case was still con­tin­u­ing.

UCLA coach Steve Al­ford de­clined to com­ment on the case af­ter the game, say­ing he would not go beyond a state­ment already is­sued by the uni­ver­sity that merely con­firmed there had been an “in­ci­dent” and that it was co­op­er­at­ing with the au­thor­i­ties.

Scott, the Pac-12 com­mis­sioner, said this wasn’t just a bas­ket­ball game; it was an ex­am­ple of the power of sport to foster cul­tural ex­changes and a rare op­por­tu­nity for the play­ers to take a break from the rig­ors of elite sport to travel to an­other coun­try and to learn from the trip.

Many had ob­tained their first pass­ports for the trip, and for most, if not all, it was their first time in China, he said.

He ad­mit­ted the ar­rests had been “a real dis­trac­tion” and “un­wanted pub­lic­ity” but did not negate what had over­all been a tremen­dous ex­pe­ri­ence. “We had a chance to apol­o­gize for the un­wel­come at­ten­tion,” he added. “We are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion, stay­ing in close con­tact with the stu­dents, and we hope the sit­u­a­tion re­solves soon.”

The game was spon­sored by Al­ibaba Group, China’s e-com­merce gi­ant, and held on its an­nual Sin­gles Day, an on­line shop­ping ex­trav­a­ganza held on the 11th day of the 11th month ev­ery year. The e-com­merce gi­ant an­nounced be­fore the game it had ex­tended its spon­sor­ship of the Pac-12 China game un­til 2020. Next year’s game will be be­tween Yale and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley.

The teams toured the Al­ibaba cor­po­rate cam­pus in Hangzhou on Mon­day, the day be­fore the ar­rests, and vis­ited Shang­hai Dis­ney­land later in the week. Play­ers and coaches all spoke en­thu­si­as­ti­cally af­ter the game about the wel­come they had re­ceived in China.

Joe Tsai, the vice chair­man of Al­ibaba Group, who re­cently reached an agree­ment to buy 49 per­cent of the Brooklyn Nets, said he was proud and thrilled to be sup­port­ing the Pac-12 China game, and sug­gested the shoplift­ing in­ci­dent was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I think the spirit of sport is that we do not pur­sue per­fec­tion; what we pur­sue is progress,” he said. “Young peo­ple are bound to make mis­takes, but the key is that af­ter you have made a mis­take, how do you re­spond to this sit­u­a­tion?”

In the end, ev­ery­one from the Hangzhou po­lice to the play­ers and the uni­ver­sity had han­dled the in­ci­dent “in a very pro­fes­sional and calm way,” he said, so that Al­ibaba had increased its re­spect for Pac-12 and the Pac-12 schools. “They have also increased their re­spect for us, increased their re­spect for our coun­try and its cit­i­zens,” he added.

LiAn­gelo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, who was in China for his own pro­mo­tional pur­poses, had been a po­ten­tial wild card and had ini­tially caused some fric­tion by telling ESPN the in­ci­dent “ain’t that big of a deal.”

But on Fri­day night, his man­age­ment had him, and the news me­dia, firmly un­der con­trol, ex­clud­ing re­porters from a pro­mo­tional event in a Shang­hai store for his Big Baller Brand sport­ing ap­parel.

LaVar Ball, who has a rep­u­ta­tion for never shun­ning an of­fered mi­cro­phone, twice ig­nored ques­tions as his en­tourage rushed him past the me­dia.

While the el­dest son re­mains in the United States with the Lak­ers, the rest of the fam­ily, in­clud­ing LaVar Ball’s wife, Tina Ball, are also in China film­ing episodes of “Ball in the Fam­ily,” the Face­book re­al­ity show that already has been picked up for a sec­ond sea­son.

The sta­dium had as many empty seats as fans, with for­eign­ers help­ing to make up for a small crowd of lo­cals. Most seemed to en­joy the game and weren’t too wor­ried about the miss­ing play­ers.

“I don't think it had a huge im­pact on the team. I’m still proud of my school team,” said Paris Ge, a UCLA grad­u­ate from Bei­jing. “Ev­ery­one makes mis­takes. In­stead of blam­ing them, we should make the ef­fort to help them.”

The UCLA Bru­ins’ win was led by fresh­man Kris Wilkes, with 18 points, and Jaylen Hands, with 14 points. Ben Lam­mers stood out for Ge­or­gia Tech, scor­ing 18 of his 24 points in the first half, be­fore ap­pear­ing to tire and of­ten be­ing dou­ble-teamed in the sec­ond half.

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