The three UCLA basketball players enmeshed in a legal fiasco in China emerged publicly for the first time Monday and a spokesman insisted they are “doing fine.”
LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley walked out of Hangzhou’s Hyatt Regency health club in Bruins workout gear and lumbered toward the elevators. Chris Carlson, UCLA associate athletic director, accompanied them.
“We’re doing fine,” Carlson said politely when asked while the players slipped into the elevator behind him. Ball wore brown headphones draped around his neck.
The three Bruins remain holed up in the Chinese lakeside city of Hangzhou nearly a week after police questioned them under suspicion of shoplifting designer sunglasses. The men stayed behind when the team continued on to Shanghai for its season opener Saturday, a tight win over Georgia Tech.
The team then returned to Los Angeles that day, but the young men continue to await their fate in this southeastern coastal city as Chinese authorities determine how to proceed. Officials have permitted them to remain where the team initially stayed — a Hyatt Regency on the lake with evening jazz performances and a glass-enclosed pool.
A person familiar with the situation said both representatives from UCLA and the Pac-12 are accompanying the players. Ball’s family – in China to film its Facebook reality show “Ball in the Family” – is not. Lavar Ball, the vocal father of Ball and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, said Monday in a tweet that he and his youngest son LaMelo Ball were in Hong Kong to market his $495 Big Baller Brand shoes.
The players are said to be suspected of stealing from a Louis Vuitton outlet around the corner from the hotel, where some sunglasses go for $740. ESPN cited anonymous sources Sunday that said surveillance footage shows them shoplifting from three stores in the high-end mall.
Louis Vuitton employees and headquarters declined to comment. A Salvatore Ferragamo employee confirmed Monday that the three had visited the store, but said nothing unusual took place.
“Three tall gentlemen, right?” he said. “They came through here, but just browsed normally.”
A Gucci employee, in a spot nearby, also said no one stole from the store. Those at Italian luxury shop Ermenegildo Zegna declined to comment.
The Bruins visited China to play in the Pac-12 China Game sponsored by Alibaba, an e-commerce giant based in Hangzhou. Alibaba has assumed that role for the last three years, and recently acquired broadcast rights to Pac-12 games including basketball and football.
Company co-founder Joe Tsai spoke warmly about the Bruins when the team visited its headquarters Monday. Tsai, who has a home in San Diego and recently agreed to buy a stake in the Brooklyn Nets, even mentioned seeing one of the freshmen team members play in high school.
The online marketplace company has an outsized role in the city. Jack Ma, an English teacher who became one of China’s richest men, dreamed up the business from his cramped apartment here. Alibaba is now the world’s largest retailer. It helped transform Hangzhou, a city of 9 million known for its shimmery lake, into an affluent, thriving tech center.
Alibaba spokesman Robert Christie said the company was satisfied overall with this year’s game. He referred further inquires to UCLA.
Hangzhou police, whose guarded headquarters is located less than a mile from the stores where the suspected shoplifting occurred, didn’t answer calls.
The investigation began just before Alibaba’s most important event of the year, Singles’ Day, a parade of consumption that offers deals on everything from airline tickets to floor mops which far outstrips Black Friday. On Saturday, the company garnered a record $25 billion in sales in just 24 hours.
Even so, Duncan Clark, author of “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built,” thought it unlikely that company officials would intervene on the players’ behalf – or, if they did, that it would amount to much.
“For Jack to weigh in himself would be inadvisable,” he said. “It could be seen as being excessively deferential to foreigners, and foreigners who – indirectly at least – were sponsored to visit China by his company.”
Staff writer Ben Bolch contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Meyers is a special correspondent.
UCLA basketball players, reportedly accused of shoplifting, await their fate in scenic Chinese town
A phone call from his father helps ease Lonzo Ball’s concern for his brother, who remains in China
UCLA basketball team returns to L.A., with three arrested players still in China