What could have been a prison sentence for three UCLA basketball players has now turned into a homecoming.
Last week, UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested and detained by Chinese authorities on suspicion of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton near the basketball team’s hotel — a crime that is punishable by up to a decade in prison.
However, those three players are now returning home to the United States following President Donald Trump’s intervention on their behalf.
The president personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to assist in resolving the case involving the trio.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the three were seen late Tuesday at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, checking in for a Delta flight bound for Los Angeles.
The freshmen — part of the UCLA Bruins — had been in Hangzhou, China “to visit the headquarters of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant” that was sponsoring the team’s Friday-night game, according to CNN.
They were released on bail last Wednesday, but were required by Chinese authorities to remain confined in a luxury hotel in Hangzhou pending legal proceedings.
A senior White House official told Reuters that the three students had been given relatively light treatment due to the intervention of Trump.
“It’s in large part because the president brought it up,” the official said, referring to Trump addressing the situation with Xi during his Asia trip.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump told reporters in Manila, adding that the basketball players could have faced long prison sentences, and described Xi’s response as “terrific.”
“They’re working on it right now,” Trump said, regarding the resolution of the case.
While preparing to return to Washington following his trip, Trump told reporters in the Philippines that he hoped Ball, Riley and Hill would be allowed to return to the U.S. soon.
A source told Yahoo Sports, “It has not yet been determined what sort of punishment Ball, Riley and Hill could face from UCLA upon returning to Los Angeles.”
The source also noted that the arrest of the players was a major embarrassment to UCLA and the incident was a major embarrassment to UCLA and the Pac-12 Conference, both of whom are attempting to grow their brands in China.
Social media users responded to the news of the basketball players’ release by drawing a comparison between the situation with the UCLA players and that of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier.
While visiting North Korea as a tourist in January 2016, Warmbier was arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labor after being convicted for attempted theft of a propaganda poster from his hotel.
Wambier suffered a severe neurological injury while in the custody of the North Koreans, who claimed he had fallen into a coma as a result of botulism and a reaction to a sleeping pill.
Warmbier was freed in June 2017 after 17 months in prison and and returned to the U.S. in a comatose state.
Obama left Otto Warmbier in a North Korean prison for over a year. Trump freed the UCLA players in one week
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) November 14, 2017
Warmbier never regained consciousness and died on June 19, 2017, six days after his return to the U.S. Coroners were unable to identify the specific cause of his injury, but U.S. officials blamed North Korea for his death, the Washington Examiner reported.