LOS ANGELES — The saga of the basketballing Ball family — a tale literally made for TV — has gone seriously off script as one of the star sons languishes in China, detained on suspicion of shoplifting.
The detention of LiAngelo Ball, one of the featured family members in the Facebook reality series "Ball in the Family," is so high-profile that President Donald Trump personally brought it up during his meeting in Beijing last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a White House spokesman told NBC News on Monday.
Before taking off from Manila on Tuesday, Trump confirmed that he'd spoken with Xi about the basketball players. Trump added that he hopes to see the men released soon.
Little else has emerged about the case as U.S. officials cite its "sensitivity" and the players' privacy. The U.S. consulate in Shanghai would say only that it was "aware" of the case.
Ball plays for one of the premier college basketball programs in America, based in one of the media capitals of the world, Los Angeles. But he isn't even the second most famous member of his family.
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"Ball in the Family," now in its second season, chronicles the comings and goings of patriarch LaVar Ball, chief executive of the sports apparel company Big Baller Brand.
LaVar Ball, 50, was already a larger-than-life figure as a former college football and basketball player who briefly appeared on a couple of National Football League rosters before diving into the cutthroat multimillion-dollar sports gear business.
But his profile really took off a couple of years ago, when the world began learning that his sons — Lonzo, now with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association; LiAngelo; and LaMelo, who is on the team at Chino Hills High School east of Los Angeles — are quite good at playing basketball.
Since then, LaVar Ball has become a polarizing quote machine. Among his choicer pronouncements: