The LeBron James Rule: Why The NBA Fined Mark Cuban, Steve Kerr and More

Ross LipschultzAnalyst IMay 27, 2010

CLEVELAND - MAY 5:  David Stern presents LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers the 2008-2009 MVP Trophy prior to the start of Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers won 99-72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images


             Even after forgetting the names of both players’ names and what year it is during the NBA Draft on multiple occasions, David Stern has become one of the best commissioners in professional sports.

            To be fair, when the other competitors are Bud “Most Sports End In Ties” Selig and sadist Roger Goodell, it’s not too difficult.

            But if Stern wants to be the best head honcho of our day, he needs to make one change: eliminate the anti-tampering rule.

            This law would make Hammurabi gag. It prevents teams from talking about players on other teams until July 1, when free agency begins. Apparently, the league takes verbal communication with the words “LeBron” and “James” as blasphemous, because three NBA executives have received hefty fines for these words.

            The newest member of the club is Michael Gearon, the Atlanta Hawks owner. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you could have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

            I’m confused; could anything be more obvious?

Yes, the rest of Gearon’s beliefs about how useless Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the artist formerly known as Jermaine O’Neal aren’t as widespread, despite being complete fact. But for some reason, the Hawks owner received a $25,000 ticket for the truth.

Unless the NBA is in some financial trouble, these penalties do not help the league. Even in Mark Cuban’s $100,000 case, the fines aren’t large enough to deter people from making comments about other players. It’s extremely difficult to stop people with this kind of cash from expressing their mind because it’s just as natural to them as breathing.

Actually, after the words Cubes had for Kenyon Martin’s mother, I’m surprised he’s still breathing.

Is the argument that talking about players like LeBron could actually affect their decision-making? If that was the case, then everyone would do it. Repeatedly.

The only thing that would be in the news more often would be British Petroleum. And Susan Boyle’s awful voice.

The stranger thing is, it’s not really tampering. According to OED, tampering means “ to try to deal or enter into clandestine dealings with (a person), about or in order to some design; often with the connotation of meddling or interfering improperly with a person.”

Joel Litvin, president of league and basketball operations, should be getting a visit from Noah Webster’s ghost. His operation? Smack Litvin with a dictionary.

The NBA execs have it all wrong. The NFL deals with real tampering, where teams start negotiating with players under contract with other teams (Albert Haynesworth to the Redskins, anyone?) while all the NBA has is Steve Kerr’s joke about LeBron taking $5.5 million to play. Yet Kerr has to pay ten grand, while NFL teams are just slapped on the wrist.

And it wasn’t even a good joke. If he goes to New York, LeBron will likely play for $5.5 million…per quarter.

The rule is even more convoluted in the fact that it only refers to players. If you call talking about other teams’ “property” is tampering, then why can the Bulls and Nets actively pursue Phil Jackson? He makes nearly double the average NBA salary, yet teams can ogle him like little boys watching “Genie in a Bottle” did to Christina Aguilera.

Note: I do not promote Jackson in midriff revealing shirts.

But if you are going to have such a ridiculous rule, it should apply to all basketball personnel. With how important good coaches and executives are nowadays, this “tampering” should apply to anyone who knows anything about basketball.

And if no one can talk about other teams players until free agency, how far can they limit speech? Conversations with friends? Personal emails? Late night talks between Jackson and Jeanie Buss?

I wonder if Jackson’s side of the bed is three feet higher like his throne on the sideline…

There is no remaining logical reason for the rule. Expressing common sense is as old as Cloris Leachman, who invaded land in the Paleozoic. To limit speech is to violate the 1st amendment. And if it isn’t common sense to want the best player in basketball on your team, then slap me on the bottom and call me Sally.

And don’t do it with a dictionary. The last thing I need is “triskaidekaphobia” imprinted on my butt.

So Mr. Stern, commissioner extraordinaire, I beseech you. Get rid of the rule. It’s useless financially, and limits comments that have no harm or effect. If they say something offensive or illegally negotiate with future free agents, that’s one thing. But you don’t need to fine your executives for every little word.

Otherwise, you are Roger Goodell 2.0.

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