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Magic Johnson comments lead NBA to investigate whether Lakers, Ben Simmons violated rules

Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, of Australia, drives up the court during the second half of an NBA
Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons is a player in the mold of Magic Johnson: a big guard who handles the ball.
(Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

Magic Johnson raised some eyebrows Sunday when he said the Philadelphia 76ersBen Simmons reached out to the Lakers to request a meeting with him to talk basketball.

That request is drawing scrutiny from the NBA.

“The league office is looking into whether any contact took place between Ben Simmons and the Los Angeles Lakers that violated NBA rules,” league spokesman Mike Bass told The Times.

The Lakers released a statement Monday saying the 76ers reached out to them:

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“To clarify, last November the 76ers sent an email to the Lakers asking if Ben Simmons would be able to speak with Magic Johnson about his Hall of Fame playing career. After receiving the email request from the 76ers, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka contacted 76ers general manager Elton Brand and informed him that Magic could only do so if the 76ers gave written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter.”

A person familiar with the communications said Allen Lumpkin, the 76ers’ director of basketball administration, requested the meeting on behalf of Simmons. Pelinka called Brand to tell him the request made the Lakers uncomfortable, the person said.

Brand was asked about the situation during a radio show in Philadelphia.

“Pelinka called me and said that Ben wanted to talk to Hall of Famers after the season; Magic was on the list,” Brand said. “He asked for authorization … I said no. This was over a month ago.”

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The discussion entered the public sphere Sunday when Johnson was asked if he enjoys watching Simmons play.

“He reached out to me — not to me directly, to the Lakers — to find out if we could get together this summer,” said Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations. “I said, ‘Hey, you’d have to clear it with the league. Everybody. The Sixers sign off. We sign off. The league signs off that nothing [inappropriate] is going on.’

“He wants to know how to play the position as a big guard … It’s fine. I will do that. But if everybody doesn’t sign off, then we can’t get together.”

Simmons was asked after Sunday’s game about his desire to speak with Johnson.

“Trying to learn from somebody like that would be huge,” Simmons told reporters in Philadelphia. “Getting to speak to him, he’s been in multiple situations where he had to play the five and won championships. Just a Hall of Famer. One of those guys, in terms of what position I’m in, a 6-10 point guard.”

A person familiar with Simmons’ thinking, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the guard spends his summers in Los Angeles and simply wanted tips from Johnson. Simmons will be a Sixer for a long time, the person said.

The Lakers’ run-ins with the NBA’s rules against tampering likely led to the decision to investigate.

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In April 2017, two months after the Lakers hired Johnson, he appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and Kimmel asked what would happen if Johnson saw Paul George, who was then under contract with the Indiana Pacers, during the summer. George had told the Pacers he planned to sign with the Lakers when he became a free agent.

“We’re gonna say hi because we know each other,” Johnson said. “I just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers.’ Even though I’m gonna be wink-winking like, you know what that means, right?”

The NBA issued a warning to the Lakers, but later investigated them for tampering with George and found conversations between Pelinka and Aaron Mintz, George’s agent, to be in violation of the rules.

The Lakers were fined $500,000, the largest tampering fine in league history, partly because the Lakers had been warned. George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and last summer re-signed with them.

Months later, the NBA took action again after Johnson made some complimentary comments about Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I’m just happy he’s starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that,” Johnson told ESPN. “And he’s going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day.”

To send a message, the NBA fined the Lakers $50,000.

In December, when LeBron James was asked about the Lakers potentially trading for Anthony Davis, James told an ESPN reporter that it would be “amazing.” The NBA released a statement that players talking about playing with members of other teams is generally not considered tampering. The New Orleans Pelicans disagreed.

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“It’s tampering, OK?” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said at the time. “It’s tampering.”

No further action was taken, but it rankled the rest of the NBA, and just weeks later the Lakers were back in the spotlight with Davis’ trade request, and under the microscope of a league mindful of their desire to add superstars and return to being an elite team.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Twitter: @taniaganguli


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