Heck, if one of them went on camera and joked about luring so-and-so to town with a minimum contract and a crate of canned hams, he might get whacked with a $50,000 fine.But if Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James get together, no harm. If one of them tries to sell the others on uniting on one bully ballclub -- even if those merits have been spelled out by a crafty team president and scribbled crib-sheet style on a wrist band -- hey, no foul. Golden StateBest of super slow motion Phantom camera action from Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and Warriors. Especially when it comes to forming cartels and dictating the power, popularity and future competitive balance of the leagues in which they play.If Micky Arison, Richard Peddie and Dan Gilbert -- owners or CEOs of the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- got together behind closed doors to share their corporate visions and strategic thinking for the next five or six seasons, they would be accused of collusion. If one or more of them personally, or through emissaries, whispered sweet somethings to others' under-contract players, they would face charges of tampering.Your browser does not support iframes. At that moment, the sense that the best players want to compete against the best rather than team up to crush lesser foes -- a bedrock of competition all the way down to the playground -- got trampled beyond anything previously seen in NBA history.These three players were buddies, partly because they arrived together in the 2003 Draft and partly because they spent more time together as members of the USA Basketball squad that won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.
Meanwhile, they had seen a convergence of three other stars win a title in Boston (2008), bonding and bantering all the way.One of these three, Wade, already played in a glamour market while the other two did not.


And Wade's team -- through crafty maneuvering, all nice and legal, right up to the signing period -- could take on two additional superstar salaries.Collusion? It surely diminished at least two of the three; Wade was just doing what franchise players are supposed to do by planting a flag and attracting talented teammates. But it didn't appear to break any rules, and with Stern's verdict, it officially has not.What rankled so many people and started the muttering about tampering was how James in particular -- with his overhyped decision show and cold, public rejection of Cleveland -- chose buddy-ball over competition.
He is taking an easier path to what might become a devalued ring, rather than heroically dragging an NBA title to his home area of northeast Ohio.
He couldn't even heroically persuade Bosh to play there.There are some who objected, too, to three players having so much control over their own fates and shaping the league.
Things like that used to be left to rumpled men in dark back rooms to hoodwink rivals into delivering the league's top talent to one market or another. Red Auerbach, Jerry West and Jerry Krause, to name a few, did that masterfully for years.This time, that control got pushed down to the players' level.


This time, it wasn't agent David Falk linking lucrative new contracts for Stephon Marbury, Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles in New Jersey.
Their enormous personal wealth allows them to make decisions that -- unlike most of the worker-bees on the league's 30 rosters -- no longer are driven by maximizing their net earnings. They command meetings with the guys in suits as if they were business partners, not heavily paid employees. Baseball heard that sort of chatter at its All-Star Break, too -- how 'bout Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Zimmerman ganging up in one clubhouse? The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.



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