Everything was going just great for Big Baller Brand last week, as founder and CEO LaVar Ball prepared to head to China with his son LaMelo, a high school basketball star, to host pop-up shop events in Shanghai and Hong Kong, a big moment in announcing a global presence for the nascent brand, all at the same time LiAngelo Ball would be in China with UCLA to play against Georgia Tech.
And it all went great! LaVar gave “much love” to Shanghai after the event there, while USA Today described the Hong Kong shop as “LIT.” Hooray for a family business succeeding quickly in today’s world!
There was just one little hangup, which happened when LiAngelo Ball and UCLA teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting. Oops.
Thankfully, the great American justice crusader Donald Trump also happened to be in the area, which led to this masterpiece quote from White House chief of staff John Kelly: “Our president said to Xi, ‘Do you know anything about these knuckleheads that got caught allegedly stealing?’”
We also got some Trump tweets out of the deal – three, in fact, which is three more tweets than the leader of the free world has had about an accused pedophile running for senate in Alabama.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?” the president tweeted on Wednesday. “They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
They did thank Trump in their press conference, so on Thursday, Trump put finger to phone again.
“To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You’re welcome, go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made…..”
“….your release possible and, HAVE A GREAT LIFE! Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”
But was this really all about Trump using his pull as president to secure the release of three young men who made a mistake, committing a crime that would be minor at home but could have had major consequences abroad? Maybe, but it’s also worth considering that the UCLA players had some good fortune in one of them being the son of a sneaker impresario.
The Ball family’s trip to China was not Big Baller Brand’s only brush with the most populous nation on Earth. Big Baller Brand made a deal with Santa Ana Design Lab earlier this year to assist with the redesign of the ZO2 Prime, and last month Santa Ana’s Billy Dill gave this quote to Slam Magazine:
“We suggested using one of our existing outsole molds as the foundation and we flew to China to implement an ‘all hands on deck’ type of attack with a very elite factory to get an incredible product made in record time. Mission accomplished!”
Big Baller Brand is making shoes in China. Big Baller Brand is running pop-up shops in China. The son of Big Baller Brand’s CEO got arrested in China, but then was released and allowed to go home. Meanwhile, Wendell Brown, a former Ball State football player who played professionally in Canada, remains jailed in China over an altercation at a bar.
Ball and his teammates admitted wrongdoing, while Brown maintains his innocence and has been locked up for more than a year. LaVar Ball may not have been able to make a deal with the Chinese apparel company Anta, but between the business he has been able to do there, and a push from Trump, LiAngelo and his teammates were able to come home. It is, as ever, the oldest lesson in business: it’s not what you do, it’s who you know.