The NBA is no longer merely disciplining Kobe Bryant, it is conducting a "witch hunt" against the Lakers' superstar, Coach Phil Jackson said. Jackson's accusatory words were delivered at the Lakers' El Segundo practice facility Tuesday, a day after NBA officials had taken disciplinary action against Bryant for the third time in six weeks for striking an opposing player on the court.
Jackson's remarks could result in a fine. He was fined $25,000 by the league earlier this season for criticizing the officiating.
Bryant has twice been given one-game suspensions for hitting players in the face while in the act of shooting, Jan. 28 against Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs and last week against Marko Jaric of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bryant was also given a flagrant foul I on Monday for elbowing the Philadelphia 76ers' Kyle Korver in the jaw while dribbling up court last Friday.
"It shouldn't even have been a flagrant I," Jackson said Tuesday. "That's crazy. That's a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. It's nuts. Guys riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league. It's just becoming a witch hunt now."
In the Ginobili incident, no foul was called. A loose-ball foul was called against Bryant when he struck Jaric. Both Ginobili and Jaric subsequently said they believed Bryant struck them unintentionally while shooting.
The flagrant foul in the 76ers' game wasn't called on the court, but by league officials several days later after reviewing tapes of Bryant's move with his left elbow.
"It is an after-the-fact type of thing," Jackson said, "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. 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."
Stu Jackson, the league's vice president of basketball operations, had said after handing down Bryant's second one-game suspension that he did not consult with the referees on the court, but relied on game tapes to make his ruling. Phil Jackson was asked if he thinks the referees on site should first be consulted before the league penalizes a player.
"You would think that would happen," he said. "From what I understand, Jaric got on [Bryant's] arm before [Bryant] got to the ball. So ... Kobe is reacting to [Jaric's] hand and the whole play ensues. If a referee sees that, he might have called the first foul [on Jaric] and not the second.... But it doesn't look like they are making that accommodation at all."
Stu Jackson had said after ordering the second one-game suspension that another such infraction could result in a multi-game suspension for Bryant. A flagrant foul I is worth one point on a grading system in which a player exceeding five points faces a suspension. This was Bryant's first point of the season.
Bryant left practice Tuesday without speaking to the media.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said league officials were aware of Phil Jackson's comments, but would not immediately respond.