The NBA announced Thursday that the Los Angeles Lakers were fined $500,000 for tampering with Paul George when he was under contract with the Indiana Pacers, before they dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s not the first time in recent years that the league has handed down tampering penalties. Tampering cost Mark Cuban some money in 2015, Phil Jackson got fined for it in 2014, and both the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings got hit with tampering fines in 2013.
What do all those cases have in common? None of them involve the most common type of tampering: when players collude with other players. In fact, the league’s statement on the Lakers’ fine ended with the sentence “The NBA’s anti-tampering rule prohibits teams from interfering with other teams’ contractual relationships with NBA players, including by publicly expressing interest in a player who is currently under contract with another team or informing the agent of another team’s player of interest by one’s own team in that player.” That specification clearly leaves a loophole for players to collaborate with other players, regardless of their contract status.
It’s an open secret in the NBA that these talks — in which players discuss possible futures with players under contract with other teams — happen all the time, and some of today’s top contenders wouldn’t exist without it. While the league’s collective bargaining agreement allows for punishment of a player for tampering in cases in which financial incentive is involved, for the most part the league has looked the other way on player-to-player tampering, even as the practice has become more common in the past decade.
So with that in mind, we take a look back at some of the most notable player-to-player recruiting efforts that might have technically been outside the letter of the law — some of which worked remarkably well and others that failed spectacularly.
2010: The Heatles come together in South Beach
After LeBron James left Cleveland back in 2010, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had a hard time letting go. His hurt feelings weren’t limited to the scathing letter he posted to the Cavaliers’ website the night of “The Decision,” either. Gilbert launched a private investigation into Pat Riley’s coup to bring the All-Stars James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together in their primes. The law firm Gilbert hired to look into the claim of nefarious team building reportedly cost the owner hundreds of thousands of dollars and was…