UCLA basketball team leaves China, minus 3 players held for alleged shoplifting

The UCLA basketball players arrested for allegedly shoplifting a pair of sunglasses in a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou, China have been left behind to face the tender mercies of Chinese justice.  James T. Areddy reports in the Wall Street Journal:

UCLA’s basketball team left China on Saturday night without three players who are being investigated for shoplifting in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, indicating their legal troubles continue at the end of a dramatic week.

Hangzhou police said they questioned the players—LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill—at a station house on Tuesday about suspected shoplifting but that day released them without charges to their hotel while the investigation continues. The young men have remained at the hotel since then, rarely venturing out of the luxury room they share, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

For the sake of analysis and because it is virtually certain that video evidence exists, I am going to assume that one of the players attempted a five-finger discount and that the others knew and can be accused of participation in the crime. For this, they could easily face years in a Chinese prison. But my guess is that the Chinese will seek other remedies to the lawlessness of its visitors.

LiAngelo Ball

Cody Riley

Jalen Hill

To understand why, and what remedies might be seen as more satisfactory by the Chinese, we need to understand the role of education and educators in the Chinese tradition. Both are highly revered, of course, but there is a flip side to that coin. Teachers – especially university professors (and officials) have an absolute obligation to serve as role models for the rest of society. They are judged more severely than others when an infraction of almost any kind is uncovered.

The players arrested are youngsters, after all, and focused on athletics not learning during their college years. The real responsibility for their behavior lies with the institution that they represented in China: The University of California and its UCLA campus, which should have prepared them for their trip.

Were the students warned that they would be under constant surveillance from a curious populace that has seen very, very few tall African-Americans? Were the students warned that Chinese people, who historically suffered under foreign occupation and extra-territoriality, are extremely sensitive to slights against their laws by foreigners? Were they told to be impeccable in their behavior in public because any misbehavior would be recorded, and punishment, formal or informal was inevitable?

In other words, did the University scare them sufficiently? It would appear not.

As someone who spent decades working with Western executives who had to work effectively in East Asia, I realize that sending someone – whether a 20 something athlete or a 60 something CEO – to function effectively without a thorough backgrounding in the local culture is asking for a disaster.

I do not know if the arrest was brought up when President Trump met with Premier Xi. But if it was raised as a topic, then the Chinese are following what I would guess would have been President Trump’s advice: punish the institution that sent them to China, not the students themselves.

Right now, the University presumably is paying for the costs of this:

The three players have been biding time in adjoining corner rooms on a club floor of the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, with their curtains drawn and a “Do Not Disturb” sign illuminated at the door. The rooms feature views of ancient temples and Hangzhou’s famed West Lake on a floor where a single room costs more than $400 a night. Two UCLA officials are in China with the players, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That is $2k a night for rooms, and add $100 a day each for the 5 guests eating at the 5 star hotel.

What Chinese justice deserves, and should demand in return for letting off the students with a warning, is a public formal apology from the head of the University of California for failing to prepare the students for their responsibility as representatives of a world-famous university. That would be Janet Napolitano.

In the old days before the Chinese Revolution, such an apology would involve the penitent individual kneeling on the ground and bending the head forward to the point it touches the ground, the infamous “kowtow” as Westerners called it. While I would pay cash money to see Janet Napolitano grovel that way, I doubt that the Chinese would go that far.

But I do hope that they let the youngsters return home, but holdout for the apology that they are due from the University that let them and their Chinese hosts down.