While hundreds of millions of Americans were spending the day before Thanksgiving preparing for the annual family feast, President Trump was setting basketball dad LaVar Ball straight on the release of his shoplifting son from China.
“It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long-term prison sentence — IT WAS ME,” Trump tweeted at 5:29 a.m.
The president was responding to a 23-minute Monday CNN interview of Ball with Chris Cuomo that has since gone viral and has been called bizarre. Cuomo was following up with Ball who had refused to thank Trump for intervening with authorities while he was in China to release Ball’s son and two other UCLA basketball players who had been arrested for shoplifting. The trio faced a possible ten-year sentence.
Questioned by Cuomo, Ball claimed there “were others on the ground” responsible for bringing his son home.
Discounting Trump’s claims, Ball said, “Somebody can make a suggestion and somebody could do something. You have people that make suggestions you got people that do things.
“Just because people say things, you know, that’s supposed to be true, like hey, I stopped him from serving ten years. Maybe we were doing some talking with other people before he even got there,” Ball said.
“I had some things done, I talked to some people that did some things, too.”
Watch the entire interview with Chris Cuomo
Ball further discounted Trump’s contribution to his son’s freedom by noting that the president was already in China on official business, so he was owed no special thanks. But Ball seemed to leave the door open if Trump would shake his hand.
“It’s not like he was in the U.S. and said, OK, there’s three kids in China, I need to go over there and get them? That wasn’t the thought process, right?
“I don’t have to say, to go around saying thank you to everybody,” he said. “You come around and shake my hand, and meet me, or meet my son, or anybody and then say you know what, maybe I can help you out.”
Ball’s interview went far afield and was the subject on Wednesday’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” where guest Cuomo described his own reaction to his off-the-wall exchange with Ball.
Cuomo’s attempt to have Ball explain how he could say Trump had played no role and Ball’s claimed “people on the ground” deserved the credit resulted in Ball turning on him.
“You don’t say thank you like any kind of word. Are you Trump’s brother? You want me to thank you?” said Ball.
“Did you thank the doctor for bringing you into this world? Well, you better go back and find him. Because you lucky.
“I know exactly what I said. But you buffered it up like you said that you don’t want to say thank you to nobody. I know you’re trying to add tone to it because that’s what you do.”
Ball then mocked Cuomo’s name: “Chrome-Mo like Google. Like the Google Chrome.”
That was the context of Trump’s day-before-Thanksgiving tweets.
After comparing the ungrateful Ball to Don King, the colorful former boxing promoter and Trump supporter, the president continued: “… LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!”
Ball made reference to the shoplifting in his interview with Cuomo, at one point seeming to rebuke his son for stealing and foolishly doing it in a country with tough laws. But and at another point, he appeared to excuse the criminal behavior because the Chinese saw that his son “has so much character.”
“If you want something, and you want it, you shouldn’t just go and steal it,” Ball said. “You can go to Africa and somewhere and do the same thing anywhere you go in someone else’s country, yes, it’s going to be a little deeper than what you thought it was.”
“But the Chinese people were like, you know what, he’s OK. He has so much character in 18 years that he’s allow to have a pass for that.”
Perhaps predictably, Trump has been criticized for getting into another Twitter war. Cuomo accused him of taking Ball’s bait. Greg Sargent, political writer for the Washington Post, argued Trump “goes out of his way to attack prominent African Americans,” casting the feud as evidence of racism.
For his part, Trump was up bright and early Thanksgiving morning, tweeting in response at 3:31 a.m., “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”