As far as I can tell, the league's final verdict on players conversing with other players about Summer of 2010 plans was "we can't outlaw it, but don't rub it in our face." I shudder to think how that compromise unfolds if decisions still loom when USA Basketball kicks into gear. But there's an entirely different realm of tampering that's been ignored in this uproar, one that my friend Hua Hsu first suggested to me late in 2008: the hip-hop angle.
The logic behind, say, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James talkin' turkey in Monaco, was that peers do from time to time confide in each other. They know each other socially, share a common trade, and, quite possibly, are the only people in the world who really understand each other. Unless you buy the "nobody knows me but my childhood friends" bit. It's inhuman to deny Wade and James this informal outlet; the mistake made was acting like it was something out of The Godfather.
Peer groups are, in essence, social circles. They are defined on a micro-level by differences in vocation, but by and large, class and ethnicity. Too trippy? Rich black people know each other. Deal with it.
Athletes and rappers intermingle, and there are innumerable lyrics to attest to their mutual admiration society. However, if this informality provides the cover for player-player exchanges -- actually, I'd call it a right -- than it also raises the problem of what to do with owners who interact socially with players. I know, it's racist and reductionist to make this about hip-hop owners like Nelly (who?), Usher, and duh, Jay-Z. But it's worth considering how Jay could figure into this summer's overall craziness.
Actually, Jay had a thing or two to say to Rolling Stone on the subject of his relationship with LeBron. (via The Daily News):
Friends still have to hang out. Friends talk about stuff. Who is the NBA to come between friends?Jay-Z swears it's true: He has no blueprint for bringing his pal LeBron James to the Nets.
"That's his decision," the hip-hop mogul, who owns a piece of the Brooklyn-bound hoopsters, tells "Rolling Stone." "We're friends - we've still gotta hang out! I don't want to convince somebody to do something, then have to see him and say, 'Uh, yeah, we're 4-30 ...sorry.'"
Mark Cuban hit the club with Shaquille O'Neal once; I read all about it on Twitter. But someone like Jay-Z can discuss possible recording, or fashion, ventures with players without anyone batting an eyelash. Shouldn't it be tampering if Jay-Z raises the possibility of Maverick Carter getting a record deal? Probably, but there's simply no way to track this. It's like the Super Summit, with one clear difference. Players can't offer players anything, other than support and advice. Introduce people in a different field, who happen to own teams, and suddenly things become a good deal more murky.
Now, I have no reason to believe that any sort of business deal or offer has been discussed. The issue, though, is that regulating this kind of social interaction would be a ridiculous, totalitarian, and possibly racist action. Then again, doesn't it give an unfair advantage to owners who do inhabit the same social sphere as players? Does it give owners incentive to try and insinuate themselves into these spaces? Can we expect Donald Sterling to get past his, um, misgivings and taking the plunge?
If you thought the open secret of LeBron and Wade texting back and forth was a monster, rest assured that there are far, far more complicated situations on the horizon. They may hew more closely to the traditional owner-player hierarchy, which is reassuring for some. At the same time, though, it has power consolidating in a new kind of backroom, with a new kind of insider-dom starting to take root. As the man says, he's going to hang out.
For now, it's really just Jay-Z. Granted, he is old and no longer has the same street cred he once did -- kind of like Michael Jordan, whose name opens up another, related can of worms. This isn't about players blinded by celebrities; if it's happening, it's far more deliberate. For some people, though, what this hanging out represents might be even more troubling than spoiled athletes taking over, or kids unable to resist shaking their heroes' hands.