Posted on: May 31, 2011 7:43 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 9:48 pm
MIAMI -- In addressing the media 45 minutes before tipoff of LeBron James' first NBA Finals game with the Heat Tuesday night, commissioner David Stern is prepared for an abundance of labor questions and also, an inquiry that has particular relevance to this series: What happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers' plans to investigate possible tampering charges related to James' decision to sign with Miami?
There isn't much to address yet, according to a person with detailed knowledge of league operations who told CBSSports.com that no formal complaint has been filed.
"The answer is no," the person said.
In his annual pre-Finals media address Tuesday night, Stern said he has not received any correspondence from the Cavs or their legal representatives. Asked after his Q&A with reporters before Game 1 if he considers the matter closed, Stern said, "It was never open."
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert declined to comment Tuesday night on his team's ongoing legal probe.
In December, Yahoo! Sports reported that Gilbert had hired a law firm to build a possible tampering case against Miami, which signed James and Chris Bosh as free agents to pair with Dwyane Wade last July. The fruits of LeBron's decision are on full display, with the Heat advancing to the Finals against the Mavericks after running through the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the 76ers, Celtics and Bulls.
At the time, Gilbert was incensed by meetings that involved high-level representatives of James and Wade in Chicago last June, when they were still under contract with their teams. Also, published reports indicated that James was involved in a meeting with Heat president Pat Riley and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan last November during a Cavs trip to Miami. That report came from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which also reported in July that Wade and Bosh flew to Akron to meet with James at his home a month earlier -- before the beginning of free agency July 1.
Stern has previously defended players' rights to discuss future plans among themselves, but stated during a playoff appearance in Philadelphia last month, "If there was tampering that someone could prove, that would make my blood boil.”
The NBA does not investigate possible instances of tampering without a formal complaint from a team.
Posted on: December 1, 2010 9:04 pm
The coup that sent the free-agent dominoes tumbling toward Miami this past July could be under scrutiny by the NBA office if Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert gets what he’s seeking – evidence that Pat Riley’s greatest accomplishment was a violation of league tampering rules.
Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that Gilbert has hired a law firm to investigate whether the Heat’s signing of free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh this past summer was tampering. While Cavaliers officials have privately stewed for months that James’ departure for Miami didn’t pass the tampering test, they have publicly maintained that they’ve moved on. This is the first evidence that Gilbert, who lashed out at James in an infamous screed after “The Decision” was announced on July 8, has not let it go.
“They’re not going to let this die,” a source told Yahoo! Sports, which reported that Gilbert already has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the probe in his quest to provide “a thick binder of findings” to commissioner David Stern.
The NBA does not investigate tampering allegations without an official charge filed by a team, and such cases are exceedingly difficult to prove. On several occasions, Stern has publicly defended players’ right to speak amongst themselves about on- and off-court issues, but after the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas in July, the commissioner said he would look into tampering charges if any were brought.
Gilbert’s plan now appears to be to bring them, with the issue coming to a head on the eve of James' first game in Cleveland as a member of the Heat.
It is widely known that James, Wade and Bosh began plotting their futures as early as 2006, when all three signed short extensions that gave them the ability to opt out and become free agents in 2010. Their bond was solidified when they teamed up to win the gold medal at the Beijng Olympics in 2008, and any negotiating barriers for their services were eliminated once Creative Artists Agency bought the agencies that represented the three players.
None of that would be against NBA rules, which prohibit team officials from recruiting players under contract with other teams but put no such restrictions on players. But published reports previously have detailed a November 2009 meeting involving Riley, James and Michael Jordan during a Cavs trip to play the Heat. The Cavs did not make an issue of the meeting, sources say, because they did not want to come across as overly sensitive about James’ potential departure – and also because key organizational figures never believed he would leave.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer , Wade and Bosh flew to Akron to meet with James at his home in late June. That meeting, and another one that same month in Chicago allegedly involving Wade and members of James’ inner circle, also will come under scrutiny in the Cavs’ probe. All three players were still under contract with their teams until midnight on July 1.
The nature of those meetings, however, only underscores how difficult it will be to prove wrongdoing. The alleged Akron meeting among players would seem to fall under Stern’s edict not to investigate players for speaking with one another about their future plans. The meeting in Chicago, where the agent for Wade and Bosh, Henry Thomas, is based, would be difficult to characterize as anything more than a business meeting among clients and their shared representative. Even if James’ associates – or James himself – were involved, James is represented by the same agency (though by a different agent, Leon Rose.)
Speculation and sour grapes, however, could be transformed into tampering evidence if Gilbert’s lawyers are able to unearth any evidence that members of the Heat organization were involved in any capacity in these or other meetings and conversations. In non-sports businesses, where tampering is known as “tortious interference,” such proof is obtained through phone records (including email and text messages) and by subpoenaing witnesses to testify under oath. But a person familiar with the NBA’s past pursuit of tampering charges – such as those between the Knicks and Heat over Riley himself in the 1990s – said it’s unlikely that league officials would have the same authority as the civil courts to carry out such practices.
The NBA declined to comment through a league spokesman because no tampering charges have been furnished to the league office.
Just as the Cavs passed on the opportunity to file a complaint with the league office over the alleged meeting with Riley in November 2009, the team also did not take legal action after James announced his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. At the time, sports law experts told CBSSports.com that the Cavs could have asked a federal judge for an injunction to stop James from negotiating with the Heat. They probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him from going, but by bringing the case to a court of law, they would’ve had subpoenas at their disposal as a tool to prove their case.
This effort may be too little, too late.