11:00 AM- Tuesday
Once I heard that Liangelo Ball was arrested in Shanghai this morning for “shoplifting” at a Louis Vuitton outlet near his hotel, my gut told me he had been set up. I can personally attest to the extent of Liangelo’s character (he once said he was worried he “loved too much”), and the likelihood of him committing such a heinous act is next to impossible. From countless late night workout sessions where we shared deep intellectual discussions, ranging from concerns about his family to the future of the nation, I can tell you that Liangelo simply wouldn’t even consider it.
I just hope to God this doesn’t get in the way of the basketball team’s visit to Shanghai Disney Resort on Wednesday. Liangelo told me shortly before leaving the states that even more than stroking threes in front of thousands of rabid fans, he wanted most to see the “beautiful synthesis of our two cultures; an organic melding of East and West. That’s a dream turned straight to reality Mr. Matt”. Sorry Liangelo, but due to the corrupt power dynamic between the Chinese Crime Syndicate and Shanghai Police, you may never get to taste that dream in your sweet mouth.
3:00 PM- Tuesday
I recently spoke with Liangelo on the phone from his jail cell. His voice was hoarse from weeping, and he sounded like he hadn’t slept for days.
“Dog”, he told me, “Nothing is real anymore. Truth is false, reality is a lie. The Green Dragons (the group we believe responsible for his imprisonment) will do anything for power”.
“Is there anything I can get you, any one of my contacts in Shanghai I can call to get you out of there?”
“No you beautiful friend- that wouldn’t be right. We have to see this thing through if any lasting change is to come from this, to show that two nations can respect each other’s systems of justice. I came to China for a reason; this is bigger than basketball”.
The hair rose up on the back of my neck at this moment- a startling realization had just crystallized into focus.
“Wait, Liangelo, you’re not telling me you knew all along you were set up?”
“I didn’t tell you, ‘cause I knew you’d never let me get on that plane if I did”.
I hung up the phone right then and there, called an Uber, and as I write this piece I await my flight to Shanghai in a terminal at LAX. I feel a trap closing in on me, but with the precious beacon of love I feel for Liangelo as my guide, I have no choice.
Illustrated by Cornelius Robins