Posted by Scott Howard-Cooper
OKLAHOMA CITY — Commissioner David Stern, fed up with issuing fines for continued “corrosive” comments about referees, drew a bold line in the sand Thursday and said he will begin suspending coaches and players for postseason games if the criticisms continue.
Speaking in even tones but clearly out of patience after a stream of financial disciplines, Stern was direct and sending a strong signal in response to a question about two fines levied against Lakers coach Phil Jackson in the playoffs for trying to work referees with statements to the media.
“I wish I had it to do all over again and, starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media,” Stern said in a press conference at the Ford Center moments before Game 3 of the Lakers-Thunder series. “You guys know that our referees go out there and knock themselves out to do the best job they can, but we’ve got coaches who will do whatever takes to work them publicly. And what that does is erode fan confidence and then you get some of the situations that we have.
“So our coaches should be quiet, because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families. And if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else. I don’t mean to be too subtle. [Laughter] And I think that Phil’s a great coach. He’s a friend of many years. I just came by and said, ‘Hi.’ And he said, ‘I don’t like you today.’ I said, ‘I like you.’ But it’s corrosive. It’s corrosive.
“Because of the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs, over the years I’ve let it go. But when you hear the Chicago coach [Jackson] say, ‘Oh, this game was lost because NBC wants an extra game,’ you hear a New York coach [Riley] say, ‘Well, you know, what are you gonna do? Jordan gets all the calls,’ it sounds like a lot of fun, etcetera. Or you hear a Stan Van Gundy do what he wants to say and then the players join.
“We know, inside the community, what it’s meant to do. So, OK, it’s playoff time, everyone’s crazy. Back off. But if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t. I would stop it and the price wouldn’t be a modest $35,000 fine. It would be whatever a day’s pay is, and then two days pay, and then a week’s pay. And if someone wants to try me the rest of this playoffs, make my day. The game is too important and I don’t think that the people who trash it are respecting it, and we’ll do what we have to do.
“Players and coaches alike. They give the impression to our fans that referees somehow have an agenda. Yeah, they have an agenda – to knock themselves out to give the best calls that they can give, and then to send their checks home to their mothers and give the rest to charity.”