- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Round 1 went to David Stern on Thursday night when the NBA commissioner went Dirty Harry style and dared coaches and players to "make my day" by publicly criticizing game officials. He said they risked not just a fine but a suspension.
On Friday, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson fought back.
"I think when you start throwing one- and two-game suspensions in the threats, I think that means a lot to both ball clubs and coaches," Jackson said at Lakers practice. "It seems awful heavy-handed to me, but David is one who isn't shy about being heavy-handed."
Jackson framed his comments about the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant's free throw shooting made prior to the series as trying to gain a competitive edge. Stern described the comments as "corrosive."
"There's a certain gamesmanship that goes on that obviously he feels cheapens the game," Jackson continued. "It never was explained to us until it suddenly came down in this last week that arbitrarily they were going to do this. I missed the coaches meeting last September. Maybe they explained it in the coaches meeting last year because they said there was a couple instances last year when I think it was [Stan] Van Gundy and [Rick] Adelman were fined during the playoffs for statements that led to manipulating the press, I guess is the best way I can say it.
"I don't know how you guys could be so naive, being members of the fifth estate, third estate, second estate or whatever state you're members of."
The Lakers coach received two separate $35,000 fines from the league in the month of April. Jackson was fined for the Durant comments, insinuating the 21-year-old scoring champion led the league in free-throw attempts in part because, "I think a lot of the referees are treating him like a superstar; he gets to the line easy and often."
Jackson was fined earlier in the month for saying the "referees turned against us" after a game against San Antonio and for calling out veteran official Bennett Salvatore by name and saying, "With Bennett, you don't know what you're going to get."
Jackson said he thought the severity of Stern's statement was unwarranted.
"[If] there's a situation of favoritism on the NBA court, I don't think anybody is going to be deluded into thinking that [certain] people don't get calls on the court, regardless of how you say it," Jackson said. "It's just a natural evolution of the game and it's a natural evolution of who gets the ball the most. They're going to end up a lot of times at the foul line. Unfortunately it didn't work for Kobe [Bryant] that way last night, but it did for Kevin [Durant]. But that's the way things go in this game. You have to accept it, swallow it and move on."
Bryant attempted zero free throws in Game 3 while Durant was 12-for-13 from the charity stripe. After the game, Bryant avoided a question about his lack of free-throw attempts Thursday night by saying, "I'm not quite sure how to answer that. ... Um, yeah. Both teams played hard."
Stern singled out Jackson and Miami Heat president Pat Riley as two coaches he would serve with harsher penalties than fines if he had the chance to go back 20 years and respond to their criticism of the referees again.
"In that instance, Pat started out by saying [Michael] Jordan got all the calls and got to the foul line all the time, that blatantly," Jackson said, describing a public battle of barbs between the two when Riley was coaching the New York Knicks and Jackson was coaching the Chicago Bulls in the early 1990s. "And I said, 'You should talk, Patrick Ewing travels every time he goes to the basket,' so we went tit for tat when it started like that. Now that's pretty blatant.
"Saying that Kevin Durant probably doesn't deserve all the foul calls he gets, what I said, he probably doesn't earn all the foul shots he takes, I don't know if that's as blatant as saying what Pat said about Michael Jordan."
Jackson said that the 34-12 free-throw disparity in favor of the Thunder wasn't because of any intentional bias by the referees, but said they could have been influenced by the raucous sellout crowd.
"It's about the energy that's in the building, let's face it," Jackson said. "There's 20,000 people here that are really [intense]. It's not an objective thing, it's subjective. We try to make it objective, but it's subjective. People definitely lean a certain way. There's a certain statistic I think that can prove that. But we try to do the best we [can] do it and I think the referees do a good job with what they've got."
But Jackson couldn't stop himself from getting at least one jab in at the officials, even though he admitted that he doesn't think any of his comments made over the years gained him any favorable edge when it came to how referees called his games.
"You know, I know that the referees take an eye test, I don't know if they take a reading test," Jackson said.
Jackson also wanted to clear up his brief meeting with Stern prior to Game 3 at the Ford Center. Stern described it as, "I just came by and said, 'Hi,' and he said, 'I don't like you today,' and I said, 'I like you.'"
"We ran into each other in the hallway ... I did not say I didn't like him. I said, 'I'm not happy with you,' is what I said and he said, 'I'm happy with you,'" Jackson explained. "He misquoted the exchange."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
22hEthan Sherwood Strauss