LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers star Lonzo Ball, was among three college basketball players arrested in China on suspicion of shoplifting, reports said Tuesday.
Ball, who is with the UCLA basketball team ahead of their season-opening game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Saturday, was detained with teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, ESPN reported.
A Hangzhou government spokesperson confirmed to AFP that three American citizens had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting but referred further questions to police, who could not immediately be reached.
ESPN said the players were arrested Tuesday after around 20 police officers descended on their hotel in Hangzhou near Shanghai, where the team had gone to tour the corporate campus of China e-commerce giant Alibaba, a sponsor of the game.
ESPN had reported that police questioned members of both teams in the hotel before taking away the three UCLA players.
The fate of the players on Wednesday, and whether they would face charges, was unclear. Shoplifting can bring a prison term of several years in China.
A US State Department official told AFP: “We are aware of reports of three US citizens arrested in China and stand ready to assist.” The official declined further comment, citing “privacy considerations”.
UCLA had said Tuesday it was “aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes” and was cooperating with local authorities, but otherwise declined comment. Georgia Tech said none of its athletes were involved.
The Pac-12 conference to which UCLA belongs issued a Twitter statement saying it was “very disappointed by any situation that detracts” from the China visit.
“Whether in the United States or abroad, we expect our student-athletes to uphold the highest standards,” it said.
LiAngelo Ball is one of three basketball-playing siblings who have emerged on the national stage in recent years, fueled in part by father LaVar’s aggressive promotion of his sons as future NBA superstars.
The shoplifting reports threaten to tarnish that campaign, which has included LaVar Ball’s creation of the “Big Baller Brand” shoe and apparel line “inspired” by his three sons.
The brand has promotional events planned for Friday in Shanghai, including an appearance by LaVar with autograph signings, according to the store where it will be held.
Eldest brother Lonzo joined the Lakers this year after just one season with UCLA, while youngest brother LaMelo Ball is still in high school but also on the radar as a future professional.
LaVar Ball is frequently criticized over his brash claims, and Twitter users wasted little time taking shots at LiAngelo.
“Season hasn’t even started and he already leads the nation in steals,” said one posting, while others launched a cheeky #FreeLiAngelo hashtag.