EXCLUSIVE: Relationship between Oakland murder-for-hire suspects grew on the tennis court

Nelson Chia and Hasheem Bason were arrested in connection to the murder of East Bay dentist Lili Xu in Oakland.

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ByDion Lim via KGO logo
Saturday, November 5, 2022
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The relationship between Nelson Chia and Hasheem Bason, suspects in the murder of Lili Xu in Oakland, grew on the tennis court, a witness said.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- We're learning more about the relationship between the two men who were arrested in connection to the murder of a beloved East Bay dentist in August. According to one man, their interactions developed on the tennis courts.

The news of Nelson Chia's arrest one week ago for the murder of his longtime partner, Lili Xu, did not come as a shock to retired college professor Thomas Cooney.

"It's not what I expected, but I wasn't surprised," said Cooney, who met us at the Davie Tennis Stadium in Oakland.

However, it was the news of Chia's death by suicide in jail, hours later, that bothered him most.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Longtime partner of East Bay dentist shot, killed in Oakland shares heartbreaking story

"The reason why I was so upset at Nelson taking his life, is because how they're going to get the real story of how Hasheem was pulled into this."

Police say 33-year old Hasheem Bason fired the gun that killed the beloved East Bay dentist, outside a massage parlor in Oakland's Little Saigon in what was originally believed to be a robbery attempt.

Cooney says he first met Bason at Davies about 12 years ago. Bason was an employee as confirmed by online records, and Cooney played with Chia on occasion.

"During that time I was closer to Hasheem than Nelson. He was phenomenal," says Cooney, who described the young man as being tall and gifted at the spot. At one time, Cooney says he explored possible ways for Bason to be scouted and recruited for a college team.

Sources close to the investigation say images seen on Bason's social media, which include a smiling photo of him holding a tennis racquet, helped paint a picture of their relationship through tennis.

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"Nelson and Hasheem would play a lot of tennis, and they got to know each other and of course I got to know them."

Chia confirmed, during a tear-filled sit-down interview with me shortly after Xu's murder, that he was an avid tennis player. Cooney says Chia ultimately hired Bason to hit with him on the courts.

"They were around each other a lot. They'd arrive together in Nelson's cars," said Clooney, adding "He had a convertible Porsche, a Bentley, he had a BMW. He would arrive with Nelson, leave with Nelson, have lunch with Nelson, that sort of thing."

Chia's other love of singing for an audience, began to rub those who knew him the wrong way. Video used in the investigation which was originally posted to YouTube, shows Nelson singing at a memorial concert for Xu in September. One guest sent me an invitation of a musical performance memorial that was scheduled less than a week before Chia was arrested.

RELATED VIDEO: Community gathers to mourn Lili Xu, woman murdered in Oakland's Little Saigon

"The concert he had, his last concert which was a tribute to Lili, was more about him. He was a narcissist."

As for Bason, more about his past is coming to light. He was arrested for felony assault of an officer during a Mayday protest in 2012. Seven months earlier, ABC7 News interviewed Bason during an Occupy Oakland demonstration.

In the interview, Bason calmly explained why he wanted more supporters to attend the event.

As Bason sits in the Santa Rita Jail with no bail awaiting his next court appearance on Nov. 15, Cooney isn't sure what changed in Bason's life, but wanted to talk to me about the young man he first met more than 10 years ago.

"He was sweet kid, a really great kid. yeah, I liked Hasheem a lot."

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live