Hawks fined for violation of NBA anti-tampering policy

The Hawks were fined an undisclosed amount for violation of the NBA’s anti-tampering policy Monday.

The league would only acknowledge that three teams violated the policy. According to several people familiar with the situation, the Hawks were one of those teams. The Rockets were reportedly another in violation.

The Hawks infraction was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week after obtaining letters that were sent to prospective ticket buyers that mentioned Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

The letters were sent by season-ticket representative who was terminated after the team reported the likely violation to the league. The AJC obtained three letters, sent by the same representative, that contained similar mentions of Howard and Paul, who are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

The first letter discovered, dated June 3, was sent via e-mail on Hawks and Philips Arena letterhead. As Howard and Paul are currently under contract, with the Lakers and Clippers respectively, a team is not allowed to speak about them publically. The letter was headlined “Hot New Player news: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.” It began with the statement: “The buzz around our offseason is more than heating up. With massive cap space, 4 draft picks, and free agency rapidly approaching, we sit in the best position in the NBA. Player interest is skyrocketing as the possibilities of landing Chris Paul & Dwight Howard become more and more of a reality.”

The likely violations began as early as March 1 when the representative sent a letter via e-mail with the subject line “Dwight Howard to Atlanta.” As part of the sales pitch the letter included the sentence: “How would the front line of Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and Josh Smith sound?”

Another letter, dated May 10, stated (sic): “Superstars, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, are just a few of the great players available in free agency this season and once we start make our moves with the potential of landing one or two elite players, you don’t want to be the one left out.”

As part of its Collective Bargaining Agreement the league defines tampering as when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody under contract with another team in order to negotiate for their services. The NBA detailed its anti-tampering policy in a memo sent to all 30 teams in 2008.

Hawks president Bob Williams did not immediately return messages seeking comment Monday. In a statement to the AJC last week, Williams said, “The (first) letter that has been referred to was written by one of our season-ticket reps of his own volition. While certainly he is a member of our business staff, his specific reference clearly does not represent how our basketball operations or our business staff have consistently communicated about free agency. It is unfortunate that this mistake, by a single ticket rep with no ill intent, occurred.”

The NBA has issued large fines for violations of the anti-tampering policy in the past. In May of 2010, when LeBron James was about to become an unrestricted free agent, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ($100,000), Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon ($25,000) and then-Suns president of basketball operations Steve Kerr ($10,000) were all fined in the same week for public comments mentioning James.

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