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Adam Silver: No ‘ongoing’ tampering investigation ... ‘right now’

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2022 NBA All-Star - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The question about possible tampering by the 76ers from Marc Stein, veteran NBA writer, to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, at his annual All-Star Weekend press conference, was direct.

“There’s been a lot of noise over these past few weeks about teams being upset — or would be upset — if James Harden wound up with the Sixers. Obviously, he did, earlier than many people thought, What is the feedback you’ve received from teams in the wake of the trade and what would have happen in terms of a formal complaint from the Nets or another team would lead the league to open an investigation of the Sixers?”

And Silver’s response was just as direct with a hint that maybe, just maybe, there would be an investigation.

“There is no ongoing investigation, right now,” said the commissioner. “No team has logged a formal complaint with the league. These are things we watch play out, unfortunately, in many cases, in the media.”

The key words, of course, are “right now.” Under league rules, the league doesn’t begin an investigation unless and until another team — any team, not just the Nets — files a tampering charge. Sean Marks seemed to suggest that the Nets are letting things take their own course. At his press conference this week, Marks said this...

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” Marks said. “It’s just the nature of the world we’re in. I’m not going to start making accusations. This particular set of circumstances was played out in the media far earlier than any conversations were ever had. If this is where it ends up, that’ll be completely up to the league to look into these circumstances.”

But then again as Silver said Saturday, “I think, in this case, you have two teams that seem satisfied with the outcome of the trade.”

The Sixers, of course, deny any tampering took place and the definition — and history of enforcement — are such that things can be a bit vague. The league can, if it wants, invoke strong sanctions against the team found to have tampered, including a $10 million fine against team owners, suspension of team executives, revocation of draft picks, even reversal of contracts. But the reality is what the Bulls and Heat were hit with last year after an investigation into Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry sign-and-trades: the loss of their next available second rounders, widely seen as a slap on the wrist.

Moreover, the league may not want to investigate. At the center of the tampering reports is Sixer co-owner Michael Rubin who’s particularly close to Harden.

A league investigation on Rubin would be problematic for the NBA. Rubin has a variety of financial connections with the league through his main source of wealth, Fanatics. The company, which aims to be the one-stop shop for everything from trading cards to sports betting, has several exclusive deals with the NBA and has been designated official e-commerce partner for the NBA and WNBA.

Rubin is also personally close to Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, principal owners of both the Nets and Liberty. Rubin and Clara Wu Tsai are among the founding partners of the REFORM Alliance, the Meek Mill-inspired group trying to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, particularly parole and probation.

Silver spoke as well about the situation that led up to the trade, namely Ben Simmons’ refusal to play in Philadelphia based on mental health issues.

“Stepping back and putting aside (the) individual dispute, (the Simmons situation is) a reminder that these are human beings in some of the most stressful jobs out there,” Silver said.

“I don’t want to compare them to people putting their lives on the line and things like that. It’s a whole different level of stress, but in terms of the social media bubble they live in, the coverage that all of you provide and that we’re thankful for, people react to it in different ways, and it can be incredibly intense on them. We have to adjust in the way society is to understanding how social media can impact people, how the media coverage affects them.”

Silver also commented on the increasing frequency of stars and superstars demanding out of contracts well ahead of their expiration. As Howard Beck, writing for Sports Illustrated, noted, “in the last five years alone, nine stars have forced trades, including two who did so twice, James Harden and Paul George.” None, he said, had four years remaining on his deal like Simmons.

“I don’t want to pretend standing here that I have some secret idea that I know can fix that problem,” Silver said.

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Silver also spoke again about the New York City vaccine mandate, reiterating his belief that the mandate, which only affects home team players like Kyrie Irving, is unfair, an “oddity,” as he said last week on ESPN. While expressing optimism that things will ultimately change, he was careful to note the decision rests with Mayor Eric Adams. Silver that he hasn’t spoken with the mayor who was sworn in only six weeks ago.

“In terms of New York City, I’m not sure what will happen specifically there, but as I’m watching what’s happening around the country, many of these restrictions are being lifted,” Silver said. “I haven’t talked directly to Mayor Adams about this, but based on what other communities are doing, my assumption is they will look at local rates of infection and testing and if they continue to come down as they have, my sense will be certain restrictions in place will be lifted. But again, I leave that up to New York City.”