Jackson's comments under review by NBA

Updated: March 15, 2007, 9:39 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Is Kobe Bryant's play on the court being overly scrutinized by the NBA? Phil Jackson apparently thinks so.

"It's just becoming a witch hunt now."
-- Phil Jackson

After Bryant was retroactively assessed a flagrant 1 foul for an elbow against the 76ers' Kyle Korver, Jackson came to the defense of his superstar guard.

"It shouldn't have even been a flagrant 1," Jackson told reporters. "That's crazy. That's a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. That's nuts. [Korver's] riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league.

"It's just becoming a witch hunt now," he said.

"I know it's not a contact sport per se, but it's a physical game and there's a lot of intimidation," Jackson said. "I think that Kobe plays the game within the bounds. There's a certain rule that we have in this game about how to play it. The men play it. That's why it's called the NBA -- it's No Boys Allowed."

It's the second time that Bryant has been penalized for a play that wasn't called a foul on the court and Jackson isn't pleased.

"It is an after-the-fact type of thing," Jackson told reporters, "and that is bothersome. They have the advantage of looking at videotape.

"We wish they would correct some of the mistakes they make in a ballgame the same way," he said. "There's a couple of games that probably could be swung, won or lost, by some of the calls they [could] correct after the fact. But you can't do that in the game."

According to Los Angeles-area media reports, the NBA is aware of Jackson's comments and they are under review.

Bryant has received two one-game suspensions this season for throwing elbows in games, once against the Timberwolves' Marko Jaric, for which he was whistled for an offensive foul, and the other against the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, where he didn't receive a foul on the play.

Following the Jaric incident, which occurred just over a month after Bryant's tangle with Ginobili, NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson told ESPN.com: "We considered suspending [Bryant] for multiple games. ... If this happens again, most likely, there will be multiple games.

"Since I've been here, I've not seen this type of conduct exhibited by a player -- driving his arm backwards and making contact above the shoulder -- I have not seen that," he said.

Bryant expressed gratitude Wednesday for his coach's support given.

"It's insulting," Bryant said before the slumping Lakers flew to Denver for Thursday night's game against the Nuggets. "I don't need to be a dirty player. That's just ridiculous. I'm not a dirty player -- never have been, never will be."

The 28-year-old Bryant, one of the NBA's best players for years, said he believes he's played "the right way" throughout his career, which began with the Lakers in 1996 when he went straight from high school to the professional ranks.

Regarding criticism, Bryant said it's fine for people to say, for example, that he shoots too much.

"I don't want the image of being a dirty player," he added.

Bryant spoke to the media for the first time since Jackson accused the NBA of conducting what he called a "witch hunt" against his star player a day earlier.

"He's being supportive, coming to my defense," Bryant said. "It feels good to have somebody in your corner."

Jackson isn't the only one. Teammates Lamar Odom and Luke Walton, who will both return to action Thursday night after being sidelined with injuries, were emphatic in defending Bryant.

"He plays extremely hard. I don't think he plays dirty at all," Odom said. "He plays every game to win it. The game's physical. He gets beat up and beat down."

Regarding Jackson's comments, Odom smiled and said: "That's P.J. I've got to be a little more political with what I say. I don't have a championship. He's got a right to say whatever he wants to say. After a few championships, maybe I can talk crazy a little bit."

Jackson has coached nine championship teams, tying him with former Boston coach Red Auerbach for the most in NBA history.

Walton said Bryant is an aggressive player, but that's it.

"He wants to win at all costs," Walton said. "He's not dirty at all. He's not out there trying to injure people. He hits us with elbows all the time -- that's part of basketball."

Jackson, who was fined $25,000 by the league earlier this season for criticizing officiating, said Wednesday he had no such concerns regarding his latest comments.

"No," he replied emphatically when asked if he expected to be fined again. "That doesn't even enter the equation that that would happen."

Jackson also said Bryant doesn't play dirty.

"Anybody who's going to be aggressive, there's a lot of physical activity," he said. "There's all kinds of activities that go on that are part of the game. I think Kobe plays the game within the bounds.

"These are men playing the games -- that's why they call it the NBA -- no boys allowed," he added.

The Lakers (33-31) enter Thursday night's game having lost six straight games and 12 of their last 15. No Jackson-coached team has ever lost more than six games in a row.

Odom hasn't played since tearing the labrum in his left shoulder March 2, and Walton has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle Jan. 26.

"It's cool -- good enough to play," Odom said. "I can play. It's probably going to be a little sore, there's probably going to be a little pain. I can't sit back and watch anymore. These are games we really need."

There's a good possibility Odom will undergo surgery after the season. He had a similar injury two years ago that required surgery.

"I've got a good pain tolerance -- let it all hang out," he said. "After the game, of course, ice, massage."

While Odom was expected to be sidelined quite a bit longer, Walton is returning much later than originally thought. That's how it goes sometimes with sprained ankles.

"It's not about 100 percent, it's about being able to be productive," Walton said. "I think I can do that now."

Jackson said it's possible Odom and Walton will both start against the Nuggets along with Kwame Brown, who missed 27 games with a sprained ankle before returning March 2. Brown will replace 19-year-old Andrew Bynum at center.

Brian Cook, who sprained his left ankle in practice Tuesday, will miss at least three games, team spokesman John Black said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE