Tampering? Me? (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The NBA has launched an investigation after a formal complaint by the Indiana Pacers that the Los Angeles Lakers and, specifically, Magic Johnson were guilty of tampering in their flirtation with Paul George.

Johnson, the Lakers’ president, as well as General Manager Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss have been contacted by a league investigator and asked to supply “any correspondence pertaining to” George, his agent and his parents, according to Peter Vecsey on Patreon. The NBA confirmed the report, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the investigation will center on “possible impermissible contact” between Johnson and George.

“At the request of the Indiana Pacers, the NBA opened an investigation into alleged tampering by the Los Angeles Lakers,” the NBA said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post on Sunday afternoon. “The independent investigation is being conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made. We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting while the investigation is ongoing.”

The Lakers refused to comment on the reports, saying only that the team is “cooperating fully” with the investigation.

“As the NBA’s statement made clear, we cannot comment about the specifics of any ongoing investigation,” the team said in a statement. “We can confirm, however, that we are cooperating fully with the NBA in the hope of clearing our name as soon as possible.”

Although the NBA and other leagues take tampering allegations seriously, the practice is as much a part of pro sports as inflated ticket prices. And it can be difficult to separate spats between teams and owners from real wrongdoing.

This spring, the Lakers, Johnson and George were hardly shy about expressing their mutual admiration. George, who is from the Los Angeles area, had his agent convey in June that he preferred to play for the Lakers and that he would not return to Indiana when his contract expired after the 2017-18 season. George has often spoken of his friendship with Johnson and, shortly after his intention to leave the Pacers was announced, Johnson tweeted: “God is so good!” On an episode of ESPN’s “The Jump” last week, reporter Brian Windhorst said “the Lakers have all but put up a billboard announcing they want to sign” George.”

A nudge-nudge, wink-wink filled interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in April is bound to attract the attention of investigators. Johnson acknowledged to Kimmel in the interview that he’d like to get George but added that, you know, talking about that would be wrong.

“I had to go to school. I had to go to CBA [collective bargaining agreement] school, salary cap school and tampering school,” he said with a laugh of learning how to be a team president. “You can’t tamper with somebody else’s player.”

Kimmel pressed Magic, asking what would happen if he ran into George socially somewhere. As one does.

“We going to say hi because we know each other, you just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’ll be wink-winking like, ‘You know what that means, right?’ ”

If he doesn’t, we do. Tampering happens fairly often, especially in a social media age in which team rivalries can become diminished by the chumminess of star athletes. Take Draymond Green, for instance. Nothing happened when Green helped recruit Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors a year ago, with text messages that Sports Illustrated reported began after the Warriors’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Durant was under contract to the Thunder for 12 days while the conversations took place.

Tampering, according to Article 35 of the NBA’s Constitution and Bylaws, occurs when a team or its representative attempts to persuade a player, coach, trainer, general manager or any other person who is under contract with another team to join the tampering team. Anyone, even a player, can tamper and can be punished. Allegations are investigated and must be supported by evidence. Punishment can include fines, suspensions, forfeiture of draft picks and transfers of draft picks from the tampering team to the victimized team. Tampering by a player can result in a suspension by the commissioner and a fine of up to $50,000.

As far as this season is concerned, the Pacers deflected Johnson’s pass, trading George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis on June 30. George talked a good game upon his arrival in Oklahoma, saying he was “thrilled” by the chance to play with Russell Westbrook.

“All I wanted was the chance and the opportunity to play for something special,” he said in July. “To ultimately try to win a championship, and right off the bat, I think I get that here, playing alongside Russ.”

That likely won’t deter any suitors, including the Lakers: George could still head for Los Angeles next summer when he is an unrestricted free agent.

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