Evidently, the NBA really, really wants Magic Johnson to keep his mouth shut when it comes to other teams’ players.
The NBA announced Tuesday that it has fined the Los Angeles Lakers $50,000 “for violating the league’s anti-tampering rule,” following statements Johnson made about Milwaukee Bucks All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during a recent interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell. That’s the second such tampering fine for the Lakers this season, coming on the heels of a $500,000 ding levied back in August.
In a vacuum, Johnson’s comments about Antetokounmpo last month — two-time All-Star starter, ascendant superstar and MVP candidate, leading light for a Bucks team with designs on making noise in the Eastern Conference playoff picture — seem fairly straightforward, complimentary and without any devious intent or malice aforethought:
As Johnson watches from afar, he can’t help but see and enjoy the parallels between his game and that of the Bucks big man.
“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.”
Operative words: “bring them a championship one day.” Heck, the Bucks appreciated the praise so much that they decided to share Magic’s praise with their social media followers:
(That the NBA’s own website promoted the conversation seems at odds with the disciplinary decision, too, though it’s not like Adam Silver and Kiki VanDeWeghe are the ones aggregating the reports to keep the content flowing.)
In context, though — both the broader context of team officials being prohibited by league rule from commenting in any specific way about players under contract with other teams, and the specific context of the Lakers just getting fined for this, man — the NBA apparently felt it necessary to crack the whip, lest the league look toothless in its efforts to enforce the (admittedly flimsy and ill-equipped) rules it’s got on the books.
The half-million-dollar fine followed an investigation into the possibility that Hall of Famer Johnson, now L.A.’s president of basketball operations, or general manager Rob Pelinka had impermissible contact with Paul George’s agent, expressing interest in pursuing the All-Star forward when he hits free agency this summer. The league had reportedly warned the Lakers away from expressing such back-channel interest in George’s services after Johnson had very publicly wink-wink-nudge-nudge’d about it during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel on ABC last April. (For what it’s worth, the Lakers have reportedly changed course on their plan to land big-fish free agents like George and LeBron James this summer.)
The fine for the Lakers (or any team) is warranted when you talk about a player from another team. Two words to live by “no comment”.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 6, 2018
Some insight on the Magic fine. This is a very strict interpretation of the rule that front office officials can’t talk about players under contract with other teams. IMO, too strict. But it seems context matters after the Lakers previous fine re: PG.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 6, 2018
On one hand, that strict interpretation, and the $50,000 rip that comes with it, seems unduly harsh for a conversation that didn’t appear in any way pointed toward trying to snare away a player under contract in Milwaukee through 2021. On the other, it’s on Johnson to adapt to the rules of the game, and it sure seems like the league’s been pretty clear about what it’s asking for from him in this regard. Sorry, NBA players of note. Sounds like you’re in store for fewer glowing compliments moving forward.
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