By Ryan Velez
Magic Johnson’s mouth got him into trouble recently, with SB Nation reporting that remarks he made about Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo technically violated league tampering rules, resulting in a $50,000 fine for the Los Angeles Lakers, where Johnson serves as president of basketball operations. The comments in question read as follows:
“With his ball-handling skills and his passing ability. He plays above the rim I never could do that. But in his understanding of the game, his basketball IQ, his creativity of shots for his teammates. That’s where we [have the] same thing. Can bring it down, make a pass, make a play. I’m just happy he’s starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that. And he’s going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day.”
Sounds a bit odd, but we need to look at what the tampering rules entail. Generally, they cover two types of tampering, private, and public. In both cases, they are defined as a ban on players, coaches, or front office executives attempting to induce a player under contract with another team to play for his team. But as SB Nation writer Tom Ziller notes, “the rule is impossible to fully enforce. Tampering is so fuzzy and subjective. Players, coaches, and general managers talk to each other all the time. Agents have increasingly transitioned into front office roles; retired players are moving into that direction, too.”
So, why did Magic get in trouble for this? Ultimately, it may be a way for the NBA to stamp out any discussion. After Johnson’s comments, Giannis Antetokounmpo responded, and the national media began to pick up on the back and forth, even if it was positive. The fine may be a way to keep things quiet before they potentially get too far in public.
This isn’t the first time the Lakers have been penalized for tampering. The Lakers and Johnson have already been caught in a private tampering violation for making contact with Paul George while he was still under contract with the Indiana Pacers. This caused a $100,000 fine, as it was perceived as a more serious offense over some off-hand public comments.