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Blog Entry

So... what exactly is tampering?

Posted on: July 12, 2010 11:05 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2010 11:22 pm
 
Posted by Royce Young

With information beginning to surface on how things went down in Miami, the first thing most likely thought was, "Wow, that's crazy stuff." And after that, some probably thought, "Hey, isn't all that like tampering or something?" David Stern said it was not, even though Ken Berger thinks differently .

You know the word. You've heard it. But what really is "tampering"?

Basically, teams can't talk about players on other teams until July 1, the day free agency negotiations begin. Some even dubbed this the "LeBron James Rule" because that's really where most the fines stemmed from, especially recently. However, some form of tampering goes back as far as 1984 , where the NBA investigated illegal contact between teams and college stars Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. So while the current definition really involves the media, tampering is essentially teams talking when they shouldn't be.

For instance, a couple cases from this offseason: Mark Cuban was famously fined $100,000 for what some might have perceived as innocent comments about LeBron; former Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations Steve Kerr was fined $10,000 for comments he made in a radio interview with Dan Patrick about LeBron; and Atlanta Hawks owner Michael Gearon, Jr. was fined $25,000 for comments he made to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about James.

To spare you a Google search, here's what the three said:

Cuban : "Come July 1, yeah, of course. Anybody would be interested in LeBron James and if he leaves via free agency, then it’s going to be tough. If he does like I’m guessing … which is say ‘I’m not going to leave the Cavs high and dry,’ then he’ll try to force a sign-and-trade and that gives us a chance."

Kerr : "Well, if he'll take mid-level, we'll give it to him." "What's mid-level?" Patrick said, referring to the mid-level exception for teams exceeding the salary cap. "About five and a half million," Kerr said. "I think he'll take it, don't you think?"

Gearon : "If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But am I going to do that for Ilgauskas? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O'Neal? I don't think so."

All three didn't seem like much. Kerr's were very clearly a joke. But that's exactly what the NBA anti-tampering rules try and prevent: whimsical, supposedly innocent comments to the media about potential free agents still under contract with another team. The rule appears simple. But as seen with Cuban's recent frustrations over the policy , it's not so black and white.

In 2008, the league sent a memo to the 30 NBA teams detailing specific guidelines when discussing potential free agents with the media.

The memo read: "If a member of your organization is asked by the media about a potential free agent prior to the July 1 following the last season covered by the player's contract, or about any other person under contract with another NBA team, the only proper response is to decline comment."

Penalties outlined in the memo could include suspension, prohibition of the offending team from hiring the person being tampered with, forfeiture of draft picks and individual and/or team fines of up to $5 million. But obviously, tampering extends past the media. It's about messing with other team's players period, whether that's through the media or through direct contact.

Other owners clearly feel like what Miami did was tampering . Meeting with players to talk about the future, mid-season, even if it's just supposedly about uniform numbers, feels like a violation of the rule. Or players meeting with players to discuss the future for that matter, though Stern said differently on Monday. But even if the league determined it was and levied the maximum $5 million fine against the Heat, I'm thinking Pat Riley would write that check with a big grin on his face. Small price to pay for the King I suppose.

(Read more about the theoretical case against the Heat from Ken Berger here .)

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