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OKLAHOMA CITY -- As entertaining of a matchup Game 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round playoff series was, NBA commissioner David Stern made sure there was one more compelling battle Thursday night.
Stern, on hand at the Ford Center to witness the first NBA playoff game in the history of Oklahoma, was asked by reporters before the game about the two $35,000 fines Lakers coach Phil Jackson has received in the past two weeks, and the commissioner held nothing back.
"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, because you guys know that our referees go out there and they knock themselves out and do the best job they can. We have coaches who will do whatever it takes to try to work them publicly," Stern said. "What that does is erode fan confidence, and then we 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, they should go get a job someplace else."
Jackson was fined for comments made regarding the Thunder's Kevin Durant prior to the series, 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."
Stern and Jackson passed each other in the hallway prior to the commissioner's news conference.
"I think Phil's a great coach," Stern said. "He's a friend of many years; I just came by and said, 'Hi,' and he said, 'I don't like you today,' and I said, 'I like you.'"Stern did not limit his comments to Jackson. Earlier Thursday, the league levied three separate $35,000 fines to Boston Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and Magic forward Matt Barnes for publicly criticizing game officials.
"It's corrosive," Stern said. "It's corrosive, and because of the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs, over the years I've let it go, but when you hear a Chicago coach say, 'Oh, they're doing it because' ... or, 'This game was lost because NBC wants an extra game,' and you hear a New York coach say, 'Well, what are you going to do? [Michael] Jordan gets all the calls.'
"Or you hear a Stan Van Gundy do what he wants to say and then the players join in. We know, inside the community, what it's meant to do, so, 'OK, it's playoff time, everyone's crazy so back off,' but, if I had to do it again, 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 in the rest of these playoffs, you know, make my day because 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 -- to players and coaches alike."
Stern finished with a half-sarcastic hyperbole, endorsing the league's officials.
"[Coaches and players] give the impression to our fans that the referees somehow have an agenda," Stern said. "Yeah, they have an agenda -- it's to knock themselves out to give the best call that they can and then to send their checks homes to their mothers and give the rest to charity."Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.