Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was unsurprisingly displeased about the attention that the arrest of three UCLA basketball players for shoplifting in Hangzhou, China has drawn before Georgia Tech’s game against UCLA Saturday to open the season.
“Not happy with anything that doesn’t reflect well on our universities and our hosts,” Scott told the AJC on Wednesday. “We’re guests in this country, so I don’t want anything that’s going to put a cloud over that, so really disappointing.”
The host that Scott likely least wants to reflect poorly on is Alibaba, the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company and the game’s presenting sponsor. The company has committed heavily to this game and to the Pac-12, recently agreeing to an extension to stream games in China through 2024.
Co-founder Joe Tsai, whose net worth is a reported $10 billion and who recently bought a 49 percent share in the New Jersey Nets, invited UCLA and Tech teams and staff to the company’s campus and gave them about an hour of his time to explain the story and success of his company. His comments to both teams, not to mention his purchase of a stake in the Nets, indicated his significant interest in basketball and suggested his personal interest in Saturday’s game and the sponsorship of the conference.
The arrests might affect the partnership perhaps more meaningfully in China, where the concept of one individual’s actions representing those of the group is much stronger than in the U.S.
Scott also expressed his disappointment that the arrests were distracting attention from the positives that have come from the experience with participants of the Pac-12 China game.
“We expect nothing but high standards of behavior to represent the school, conference, the NCAA, your country,” Scott said. “That’s what I talked about up there (during a news conference to promote the game) was, this is about a positive and friendly exchange and building goodwill. So anything that distracts from that, I’m not happy about.”
Among local fans, it’s not likely that the arrests of UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hall on Tuesday for shoplifting will make much of an impact, as American college sports doesn’t register significantly on the Chinese sports landscape. Last year’s Pac-12 China game drew 7,200 fans to an arena with a capacity of 18,000. Two media members queried at a news conference for Saturday’s game (Friday night in the U.S.) had little or no awareness of the arrests.