Prior to the hectic free agency period began in the summer of 2019, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers found himself in a bit of trouble with the league.
He was fined for tampering after saying Kawhi Leonard resembled Michael Jordan while the former was still playing for the Toronto Raptors. Rivers’ comments were innocent enough, but violated the NBA’s rules and it was known the Clippers would be one of Leonard’s most aggressive suitors.
The L.A. Lakers especially had a right to be angry, as they had been fined for tampering on multiple occasions during Magic Johnson’s tenure as president of basketball operations. Johnson’s fine was even more frivolous, as he simply said that Giannis Antetokounmpo would bring a championship to the city of Milwaukee.
Austin Rivers — who is of course Rivers’ son and a player on the Houston Rockets — shared that his father only got fined for tampering because of pressure from Lakers fans, according to Rivers via Uninterrupted’s “Go Off:”
“You only got fined, and this is my opinion, due to the public pressure of Lakers fans. Because they wanted Kawhi Leonard so bad, and I think their fanbase annoyingly controls so much of the media. To the point where that became a thing. Where anything you said about Kawhi, because Lakers fans think every free agent is coming to them.
Austin continued to discuss what he described as a compliment to Lakers fans:
“They think Klay Thompson was going there, they thought Paul George was coming there, that’s just what it is. Again, it’s a credit to how passionate they are. I say this actually as a compliment to their fanbase and how passionate they are about their Lakers. But I think the pressure, anything you said that had to do with Kawhi would have been viewed as tampering or you trying to lure him in. Because this happened before the season, right? This happened before free agency, when you’re allowed to say anything?
He finished off by saying that it wasn’t just Lakers fans, but that Raptors fans also pressured the league because they wanted Leonard to return:
“I think it was Lakers and Toronto fans. I think it was public pressure from Toronto fans wanting Kawhi back, and Lakers fans thinking they’re the only realistic team in L.A.”
The Clippers head coach said that he was only trying to compare the body type’s of Jordan and Leonard and that no harm was meant by it. Doc also noted that he understood the fine due to the situation, with Leonard’s upcoming free agency and the Clippers being intent on signing him.
Perhaps Lakers and Raptors fans really did influence the league’s decision to fine Rivers. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the league’s anti-tampering rules were violated. If the NBA believes that tampering is a problem and they want to enforce it, it must be done so equally.