UPDATED: 9:46 p.m. EDT — UCLA was cooperating with Chinese law enforcement following the reported arrest of three of its basketball players on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported. Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley and were taken into custody after they allegedly were caught stealing from a high-end retail store next to the team’s hotel in Hangzhou.
“We are aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes in Hangzhou, China,” UCLA said in a brief statement. “The University is cooperating fully with local authorities on this matter, and we have no further comment at this time.”
UCLA was in China to play its season opener agains Georgia Tech, which also had three of its players questioned by police in China before they were cleared of any wrongdoing, the Associated Press reported.
If the arrest holds up and the UCLA trio is convicted, Ball, Hill and Riley could face harsh punishment in a country that is renewed for its zero tolerance penal code. Shoplifting in China carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum sentence of a decade, according to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.
“I would say they could be in quite a bit of trouble if they have solid proof that they shoplifted,”William Nee, a researcher who works in the Chinese justice system for Amnesty International, told Yahoo Sports. “However, part of it will depend on whether their lawyers, the university, or the U.S. consulate can advocate and negotiate on their behalf.”
Prior to Tuesday’s drama, the team was shown enjoying its time abroad.
UCLA freshman LiAngelo Ball may have set a record for steals in the storied college basketball program’s history before even playing one game. The reported shoplifting arrest of the “big baller” in China could result in a much bigger punishment than some might expect.
Ball was among three UCLA players accused of looking for a five-finger discount at the Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou, ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon. The son of the polarizing LaVar Ball and brother to hoops stars Lonzo and LaMelo was nabbed just days ahead of UCLA’s game against Georgia Tech on Friday.
While immediate details were scarce, such as what was allegedly stolen, criminal penalties for theft in China are among the strictest in the world.
“Those robbing public or private property using force, coercion, or other methods are to be sentenced to three to 10 years in prison in addition to fine,” according to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.
If a weapon was used or if anyone was hurt, LiAngelo and/or his teammates could also face the death penalty, according to Chapter V of “The Crime of Encroaching on Property” portion of the criminal code.
The laws in China are so strict that one woman was sentenced to serve a decade in prison for stealing a cellphone in China. Another woman who stole food from a grocery store was sentenced to being publicly shamed by being forced to hold up a sign reading, “I am a shameless thief,” China Daily reported.
In another sign of the country’s rigid criminal justice system, the above penalties were seen as being “too lenient” for shoplifting in 2001, according to the South China Morning Post.
Back home in Southern California, LiAngelo drives a Ferrari, which typically sells for as much as $400,000. His younger brother LaMelo drives a Lamborghini. Their older brother Lonzo just signed a lucrative multi-million dollar contract with the Lakers. Their father was running the Big Baller Brand, an athletic lifestyle brand that sells sneakers for $495 a pair, among other pricy items.
All of those facts likely left many wondering why exactly LiAngelo would need to steal anything at all. The least-heralded Ball brother, far from an NBA prospect, was largely seen as part of a package deal to guarantee his brothers would play for the storied UCLA program.