Magic Johnson is struggling to reconcile his role as president of the Los Angeles Lakers and his desire to answer every question about the NBA people ask him. That’s gotten him in trouble in the past, usually in the form of the league fining him money for speaking about players he’d like to see on the Lakers.
“Tampering” is a word up there with “tanking” in the NBA. Everyone at least vaguely knows what it means and wants to talk about it, but the specifics are usually light. What’s clear is that everyone thinks Johnson — and also maybe LeBron James — is doing something shady when he talks about how much he’d like certain players to come to Los Angeles and play for him.
The Anthony Davis dumpster fire is the latest example of tampering, where the New Orleans Pelicans begged the NBA to enforce the rules and Davis himself was actually fined for his trade request going public.
All of this has heightened everyone’s senses when it comes to tampering. Which is why when Johnson was asked about Kemba Walker in Charlotte in the leadup to NBA All-Star weekend, well, he wasn’t going to say what he wanted to say on Friday night.
“You know I can’t answer any questions about no players,” Johnson said. “Because every time I do it, I get fined. But anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’mma stay away from that one.”
Johnson is trying to be fun here, but it’s also a critique of how the NBA handles tampering as a whole. Johnson feels he’s treated differently than others in the NBA, and he’s certainly attracting extra attention. That’s clear when it comes to Ben Simmons, who simply wanted to talk to some former NBA players and things got weird.
The problem is that Johnson isn’t just a former NBA great: he runs an NBA team and the tampering rules apply to him. But as LeBron knows well, those rules don’t apply to him as a player. When he owns a team, though, things will be very different.