The Miami Heat travels to Cleveland tonight for LeBron James's first appearance at the Q as a member of the visiting squad. As if the story line didn't already make for one of the most dramatic and emotional regular-season matchups in NBA history, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has added fuel to the fire by reportedly hiring a team of lawyers to probe whether the Heat broke NBA tampering rules in its pursuit of James. Gilbert has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain a powerful law firm and will apparently stop at nothing to pursue the investigation.
No representative of the Miami Heat, including players such as Dwyane Wade, were allowed to discuss with James the specifics of his signing with the Heat. According to a report from Yahoo! Sports, Gilbert believes those rules were broken.
The lawyers will probe an alleged meeting between Pat Riley and James in Miami in November 2009, and a meeting between James's inner circle and Wade in Chicago this past June.
Though Wade, Chris Bosh, and James have admitted to idly discussing the idea of some day playing together in the NBA during the 2008 Olympics, the Heat has denied there was any tampering.
If the lawyers find enough proof, the Cavs will officially ask NBA Commissioner David Stern to open an investigation. Punishment could include loss of draft picks and suspension of front-office personnel.
NBC Sports cautions readers to be skeptical:
The release of this story the day before James returns to Cleveland by [Yahoo! Sports writer] Wojnarowski -- who has been hard on LeBron James, to put it mildly -- makes the cynic in us come to the fore. There may well be some truth here, but take this with a few grains of salt is what we are saying. The timing of this certainly should play well in Cleveland... but certainly that is just a coincidence...
The Heat has not officially responded to rumors of the allegations, but James addressed the them with AOL Fanhouse.
There is a river of back-channel communications in the NBA. A Mississippi of such talk. To pull out parts of these things and prove tampering is a tall order.
"I'm a Miami Heat player representing this franchise, so that's out of my league," James said. "I don't have anything to do with that. We followed the process like any other free agent, and this organization did also."