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Lakers Hit With $500,000 Fine For Violating Tampering Rules Regarding Paul George

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Magic and Luke. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Basketball isn't all about highlight reel dunks and nine-foot tall bronze statues. The game is also a business, and as such there are a lot of humdrum money matters that go on behind the scenes.

The Lakers have been hit with a $500,000 fine for what the NBA says is a violation of "anti-tampering" laws, the league announced Thursday. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka reportedly engaged in a "prohibited expression of interest" with an agent representing NBA star Paul George, who the Lakers had been pursuing in the off-season (George would be traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder). George was still under contract with the Indiana Pacers at the time of the communication—as noted at ESPN, team officials aren't allowed to reach out to players or their agents to discuss future plans until after the players' free-agency year has started on July 1.

Here's a letter about the matter from NBA brass:

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As stated in the letter, Pelinka is the focus of the fine, but Magic Johnson, who serves as president of basketball operations for the team, shares some of the blame. The "April 20 national television appearance" in the letter refers to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live in which Johnson was a guest. There came a bizarre exchange in which Kimmel asked Johnson about the stuff he had to learn upon getting his current job.

"I had to go to CBA school, salary cap school, and tampering school," Johnson joked.

"What constitutes tampering?" said Kimmel, who then asked if Johnson would be prohibited from having a friendly chat George, who was known at that time as being on the Lakers' radar.

"We can say, ‘Hi,’ because we know each other,” Johnson said. “I just can’t say, ‘Hey, we want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’m going to be wink-winking. You know what that means, right?” Kimmel, Johnson, and the audience had a blast with it, but the joke fell flat for the NBA, apparently.

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Obviously, $500,000 is just a drop in the bucket for the Lakers, as the team is worth $3 billion. ESPN reports that the fine could have gone as high as $5 million.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that George signed with the Thunder. It is more accurate to say he was traded to the team.