A fairly routine announcement a few weeks ago that the Yale basketball team will open next season in Shanghai, China, was somewhat overshadowed when three players from UCLA were busted for shoplifting while on a similar trip earlier this month.
Due in part to President Donald Trump, the story was still getting headlines as recently as Thanksgiving Day, when he sent out an early morning tweet directed against LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of one of the players.
LaVar’s son, LiAngelo Ball, along with fellow freshmen teammates Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, were caught on video surveillance stealing sunglasses and other items from three stores in Hangzhou, China, on Nov. 8th.
They were arrested by police and detained a few days while the rest of the team and the UCLA party flew back to the U.S. without them.
What has this got to do with Yale? Nothing; or perhaps more than nothing, depending on how one looks at it.
The Pac-12 conference, of which UCLA and California Berkeley are members, has a program called “global initiative.” It seeks to popularize the league’s athletic programs and extension universities in China, and indirectly attract native students from well-to-do families.
Starting in 2015 the Pac-12 has been involved in an annual basketball game between one of its teams and an opponent from another conference. Yale will be the second from the Ivy League, Harvard having been the first to go last year.
The event goes under the name of the “China Game” and is co-sponsored by the Pac-12 and an e-commerce conglomerate, the Alibaba Group. When UCLA defeated Georgia Tech, 63-60, its three freshmen arrestees were, naturally, not available.
The Yale-Cal game will take place on Nov. 10, 2018. Because of the international date line, that will actually be the following day, Nov. 11th, in China. Either way, it will be carried live on ESPN on Nov.10th at 8:30 pm, Eastern time…
Be it November 10th or Nov. 11th, it will be the earliest season opener for Yale ever.
Turn of events
The embarrassing turn of events this year was directly opposite to what the Pac-12 was looking for.
On November 6th the team was given 90 minutes of free time. According to UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the three visited several stores in Hangzhou, a neighboring city, and were captured on video surveillance lifting items from three stores.
The next day police searched the players’ personal belongings and the team bus before issuing charges against Ball, Hill and Riley.
They were then arrested, made to surrender their passports, and placed under $2,220 bail. (It is not clear if that figure was per person or for all three.) They were put under house arrest at the team’s luxury hotel in Hangzhou, after which their teammates played against Georgia Tech and then flew back to the U.S. without them.
Yale will get some unwanted attention
Before all this erupted and Yale was announced as one of the participants next year, the Bulldogs’ coach, James Jones, issued the following statement:
“The opportunity for our student-athletes to engage themselves into another culture while at the same time participating in a challenging basketball contest is truly unique. Our players are excited, and I’m happy they will have this once-in-a-lifetime experience which will create ever-lasting positive memories.”
Not to diminish the coach’s words, however, the arrest of the three Bruins is bound to serve as a warning to the Bulldogs and members of other teams playing in China that they could be closely scrutinized because of what happened this year.
The Yale connection
The Alibaba Group is owned in part by prominent Yale alum, Joe Tesi, its executive vice-chairman, who was born in Taiwan. He graduated from Yale in 1986, majoring in economics and East Asian Studies. Then he received a degree from Yale Law School in 1990. As an undergraduate he played on the lacrosse team.
Tesi, reported to be a billionaire, has recently been in the news as a potential buyer of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. Then a week ago (Nov. 17th) he was one of the 2017 recipients of the George H.W. Bush ’48 Lifetime of Leadership Awards, presented at Yale’s Lanman Center in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium on Nov. 17th, the day before the Yale-Harvard football game.
Here comes President Trump
Never have we had a President so involved in sports controversies, such as the National Anthem kneel-downs, the refusal of the Golden State Warriors to go to the White House after Stephen Curry declined to accept an invite, and now these international shoplifting incidents, all within a few months.
By coincidence, the President was in China about the time when the shoplifting episodes happened. Through his intercession it became an issue on the highest diplomatic level between him and the President of China, Xi Jinping.
Trump tweeted that the players “were headed for 10 years in jail,” and he was looking for some words of thanks for his efforts in getting them released. Instead, Mr. Ball stated on CNN “I don’t have to . . . go around saying ‘thank you’ to everybody.”
In return, Trump tweeted to LaVar Ball, “you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember, LaVar, shoplifting is not a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool.”
Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
Meanwhile, several legal practitioners have disputed whether the trio would have received any jail time at all, and expressed the belief that they would have been sent home with a reprimand and told never to return to China.
The Ball family
The family of LiAngelo Ball is probably better known than the UCLA freshman himself. His older brother, Lonzo Ball, played at UCLA last season and is now a rookie member of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. His father is a budding business man.
This wasn’t the kind of publicity the Pac-12 was looking for when it arranged for UCLA to oppose non-conference Georgia Tech in China.
Upon his return coach Steve Alford announced during a news conference at Pauley Pavilion that the three were being suspended indefinitely. No word yet as to whether the NCAA will impose any discipline.
Alford didn’t specify what the indefinite suspensions mean; saying only that the three players would have to earn their way back onto the team.
Bill Walton, ex-UCLA star, embarrassed
The UCLA-Georgia Tech game, which took place after the incidents, was televised by ESPN and, by coincidence, the color commentator was Bill Walton, a former all-American at UCLA.
On the air, Walton said:
“I am sad, disappointed and embarrassed. This is a very big deal. The noble purpose here has been stained. Our host, Alibaba China, the people, they have been better than perfect in everything. They’ve done everything right to make this all work. Now members of our family have displayed an appalling lack of honor, a lack of respect, a lack of decency, by doing something in someone else’s home that they would never do in their own. And I want to apologize right now on behalf of the human race for this travesty.”
Off on a tangent, but somewhat relevant is that Yale has long had a presence in the country, before it was officially named the People’s Republic of China. In 1913 the Yale Foreign Missionary Society, known informally as Yale-in-China, was formed. It was later renamed the Yale-in-China Association and in 1975 became the Yale-China Association.
It is affiliated with several universities in that country where Yale maintains an English teaching program, projects in environmental protection, American Studies, public health, pediatric cardiology, and legal education, among other fields.
This has nothing to do with basketball, of course, and should not diminish the impact of the Bulldogs playing in China. But I include it to show that Yale has been there before, long prior to when its basketball team will play in the next China Game in 2018 in Shanghai.
May they both achieve their stated goals.