The Runner Sports

Why Should We Care About Tampering In Sports?

On Thursday, following a brief independent investigation, the NBA announced that the Los Angeles Lakers were fined $500,000 for illegal contact on behalf of newly appointed GM, Rob Pelinka, and Paul George’s agent, Aaron Mintz.

The fine comes as the second largest tampering punishment in league history, but still feels little less than a slap on the wrist in an attempt to make an example of one of the league’s most prodigious organizations.

The whole charade began with George himself announcing his intent desire to play in his hometown LA, specifically for the Lakers, upon hitting free agency, as early as the summer of 2018. His comments began a shift across the entire league, one of the year’s top free agents seemed to already have a destination. It also began some internal, and not so internal discussions within the Lakers organization.

Naturally, instantaneously the questions began to stream out over Magic Johnson’s very open comments about how he felt having a candid conversation with a player he knows wouldn’t constitute as tampering, while also simultaneously joking (not so joking?) about the extent of what that conversation might include.

The Indiana Pacers filed official tampering charges against the Lakers just earlier in the month following cutting ties with a clearly already out the door George via a trade to Oklahoma City.

While Magic’s Kimmel appearance sparked the warning, it was Pelinka who crossed the boundary with actual conversations with Mintz regarding George.

Considering the punishments dealt out to the Timberwolves back in 2000 revolving around Joe Smith, it was a perfect getaway for LA. Tampering cost Minnesota $3.5 million and three picks. We’ve seen tampering punishments results in a league blockade of actually signing the player, which could have made all this for naught. Instead, the Lakers got their point across, the league shook their finger, and Paul George likely cuts from Westbrook and the Thunder to do what he originally intended to do.

Ultimately, because no agreement had been put in place, the punishment didn’t come anywhere near to what the league is entitled to. But if the end result of this is the Lakers still get George, what good has the league accomplished today other than get the Lakers to fork over what is ultimately a minuscule amount for the franchise?

Pelinka, a former agent, and Johnson, easily one of the most recognizable and proactive names in basketball history, pose a problem for what’s constituted as tampering. Between these two, they know and interact with a lot of people across the league… that’s league executives, coaches, players, agents, sponsors, and more.

Those same rules that define tampering also speak about players being barred from such activity, but we’ve seen more and more those conversations occurring before free agency, yet the league has essentially turned a blind eye to those backroom conversations.

With Johnson’s accessibility, how much longer can the NBA keep up the facade of the anti-tampering rules being in place for competitive balance? When does that competitive balance shift to allowing other teams to partake in such activity?

It’s clear the league can only care so much, and more importantly do so much, to quell such activity. So why do we even care about tampering at all?

On paper, it’s supposed to be a competitive balance measure. But has it really had an impact on accomplishing such?

The only reason tampering is illegal for one executive is because it’s forbidden for the other 30 some (depending on the league). But what changes when every executive has the right to have a chat about the legacy and system they’re building to players without getting down into a contractual conversation?

I know, I know, that’s a mighty slippery slope to put the league upon. What’s to stop under the table deals from popping up all over and teams constructing their rosters years in advance? Surely that’d be the end of small markets like Indiana and Oklahoma City. Transparency is your answer. It’s as simple as legalizing a loose conversation point of a team being able to show interest in a player and having a general conversation about that, but force it be transparent and, more importantly, obtainable.

It provides a sense of accountability on everybody that makes this league run smoothly, players, coaches, executives, and the league office. NBA players have been on a decade long power struggle with owners, and couldn’t this be their biggest power struggle yet? A contract doesn’t buy you staying power and loyalty, only a well run organization and mutual respect can do that.

There are still plenty of measure in place to ideally keep the league competitive, but showing interest in a player, from an organizational standpoint, has long not been one of them.

There’s little to be gained in saying too early into a contract of a team’s desire to see a player in their uniform, but just as a top free agent will have every team come calling eventually anyways, what’s lost in such comments? If anything it openly shows the hands of your opponents, thanks again to keeping these things transparent.

Intent to pursue won’t even equal constant meetings through a contract either.

Barring a league wide move by every player to disregard consequences, players will take meetings with caution. Pending free agents will tow the line a bit more, but why shouldn’t they be allowed? Clearly, if they’re already thinking outside their existing team, there’s a chance they’ll be walking within the first week of free agency anyway.

But will a player who’s in a happy situation in a city they’d like to stay in be taking a team pitch meeting in year two of four of their contract? Unlikely. Just as loyalty is a two way street with teams and players, loyalty goes a long way in building a player brand as well. While the whole jersey burning thing has gotten out of control, it shows the investment of fans into players. Take a meeting in the middle of a contract and you’ll likely piss off more than a fair share of your supporters. Big enough players can take those risks more but it wouldn’t result in the anarchy across the league tampering is sold as to protect.

We know tampering happens anyway, how else would free agent deals be announced within five minutes of non-tampering deadlines? So why are we still pretending to care?


What are your thoughts on tampering? Should we be doing away with such restrictions, or doubling down on enforcement and punishments. Let me know in the comments.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold