Magic Johnson investigated for tampering? Paul George, meet Robinson Cano

Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations for the Lakers and a co-owner of the Dodgers, speaks at a news conference on June 23.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This isn’t the first time a sports league has investigated Magic Johnson for possible tampering.

The NBA this week announced that it was looking into whether the Lakers had tampered with Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, based on comments Johnson made on a late-night talk show.

Johnson is in his first year as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. George, who is eligible for free agency next year, has since been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.


In 2013, his first full year as co-owner of the Dodgers, while bantering with reporters before the first game of the playoffs. Johnson spoke about how the Dodgers intended to sign Clayton Kershaw to an extension but did not plan to pursue New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who would be the premier free agent that fall.

“I can’t talk about the other guy, the guy in New York. He’s going to get paid — not by us, but he’s going to get paid,” Johnson said then. “When you’re a superstar, you get paid. We understand that.”

Even though he said the Dodgers were not interested in Cano, Major League Baseball opened a tampering investigation of Johnson anyway. Baseball is the only major North American sport without a salary cap, so teams can pay any free agent whatever they like.

The league and the players union were concerned about how the public declaration that a big-spending team was not interested in Cano might depress his market.

Cano signed for $240 million with the Seattle Mariners.

The league took no disciplinary action against the Dodgers, in part because Johnson was a rookie owner and not a day-to-day executive. Johnson was asked to be mindful of the effects his public comments could have.

Appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in April, Johnson was asked by the host 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?”

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