Reporting from Oklahoma City — Phil Jackson smiles and shrugs. This is fun to him, a bit of gamesmanship, equal parts psychology and satire.
If Thursday night was NBA Commissioner David Stern's time to lobby against coaches who criticize referees, Friday afternoon was Jackson's time to respond to the NBA's recent rash of fines, $70,000 of which have been aimed at him this month.
Jackson acknowledges there are mind games, he also understands that referees are human beings too, and he can't quite help himself when it comes to ribbing people, even if it happens to be the most powerful man in pro basketball.
It was Jackson unplugged, and it led to multiple bursts of laughter from reporters circled around him before the Lakers practiced in preparation for Game 4 Saturday against Oklahoma City.
Jackson started by saying it would be too strong for Stern to suspend coaches who habitually criticized referees.
"It seems awful heavy-handed to me, but David is one that isn't shy about being heavy-handed," he said. "There's a certain gamesmanship that goes on that obviously he feels cheapens the game. It never was explained to us until suddenly it came down this last week that arbitrarily they were going to do this. I missed the coaches meetings last September, so maybe they explained it [there]. . . ."
Jackson said referees were prone to make mistakes.
"I don't think anybody's going to be deluded into thinking that people don't get [favorable] calls on the court, regardless of how you say it," he said. "It's just a natural evolution of the game and it's a natural evolution of who gets the ball the most and they're going to end up a lot of times at the foul line. Unfortunately it didn't work for Kobe [Bryant] that way [Thursday] 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 did not get to the free-throw line in the Lakers' 101-96 loss Thursday to Oklahoma City in Game 3, while Durant made 12 of 13 free throws.
Jackson laughed when asked whether he was too harsh in saying last week that Durant was treated "like a superstar" by referees, a comment that drew his second $35,000 fine this month.
He reminded reporters of the playoffs in the mid-1990s, when he verbally sparred with former New York coach Pat Riley. Jackson was coaching Chicago at the time.
"Pat started off by saying that [ Michael] Jordan got all the calls and got to the foul line all the time," Jackson said. "And I said, ‘Patrick, you should talk, Patrick Ewing travels every time he goes to the basket.' So we went tit for tat. Now that's pretty blatant.
"Saying that Kevin Durant probably doesn't deserve all the foul calls he gets, he probably doesn't earn fouls on all the shots he takes, I don't know if that's as blatant as saying what Pat said about Michael Jordan."
Does anything Jackson says to the media actually make a difference in referees' calls?
"I don't think it makes a difference," he said, pausing for effect. "I know that the referees take an eye test, but I don't know if they take a reading test."