The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Johnson appeared on the late night talk show in April, just weeks after he took over as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and was asked by Kimmel what he would do if he saw George while on vacation.
“We can say hi because we know each other,” Johnson replied. “I just can’t say, ‘Hey, we want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’m gonna be wink-winking. You know what that means, right?”
George, who is from Palmdale, had long expressed interest in playing for the Lakers, and in June reports emerged that his representatives had informed the Pacers that he planned on opting out of his contract in 2018 to become a free agent, with the intent of signing with the Lakers. George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder later that month.
George had mentioned his friendship with Johnson and admiration for Kobe Bryant repeatedly during his Pacers tenure. Not long after the initial news that George intended to opt out of his contract, Johnson tweeted "God is so good!" That had several analysts discussing the possibility of tampering.
Team officials aren’t allowed to make contact with a player or their representatives until July 1 of the player’s free-agency year. George won’t be a free agent until next summer.
The Lakers could be fined and lose future draft picks if they’re found guilty of tampering. But according to several NBA officials, it would be difficult to prove that the Lakers tampered with George. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing, according to the officials.
“The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made,” the league’s statement said. “We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting while the investigation is ongoing.”
Alison Bogli, the Lakers’ director of media relations, released a statement acknowledging the team’s cooperation.
“As the NBA's statement made clear, we cannot comment about the specifics of any ongoing investigation,” the statement read. “We can confirm, however, that we are cooperating fully with the NBA in the hope of clearing our name as soon as possible.”
The NBA said the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is conducting the investigation. Lawyers from the NBA and the outside counsel the Lakers hired to review the matter each deposed Johnson, owner Jeanie Buss, and general manager Rob Pelinka in May, according to the officials.
George, a 6-foot-9 small forward out of Fresno State who has played seven NBA seasons, is a four-time All-Star. He’s been selected third team All-NBA three times.
He has averaged 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals a game during his career, during which he shot 43.2% from the field, including 37% from three-point range, and 85% from the free-throw line.
George, who has averaged more than 23 points a game the past two seasons, shot a career-best 46.1% from the field last season and averaged a career-best 23.7 points.
4:30 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from the Lakers and more details about Paul George.
This article was originally published at 3 p.m.