MELISSA BLOCK, host:
They're playing hardball in the NBA, and we're not talking about a thundering slam dunk. This is a battle between NBA Commissioner David Stern and the coach of the Houston Rockets, Jeff Van Gundy. The NBA slapped Van Gundy with a record $100,000 fine after he criticized referees, and Commissioner Stern has threatened that Van Gundy's future in the league is on the line. Here's Coach Van Gundy.
Mr. JEFF VAN GUNDY (Coach, Houston Rockets): I said what I said, I believe what I believe and I've seen what I've seen.
BLOCK: And here's Commissioner Stern.
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Mr. DAVID STERN (Commissioner, National Basketball Association): We considered it to be an assault on the integrity of our officials.
BLOCK: This all goes back to comments that Coach Van Gundy made to reporters on Sunday. He charged that referees in the Houston-Dallas playoff series were calling fouls unfairly on Houston center Yao Ming. Van Gundy claimed the referees were cracking down on Yao because of complaints lodged by the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban.
And it gets more interesting. Coach Van Gundy also claimed that a league referee not working the playoffs had tipped him off, and he's refused to reveal his source to the NBA. Joining us to explain why this is such a big deal is Jack McCallum, who covers the NBA for Sports Illustrated.
Thanks for being with us.
Mr. JACK McCALLUM (Sports Illustrated): Sure, Melissa.
BLOCK: Coaches complain about refereeing all the time; I think it's part of the job description. Why has this become such a big story?
Mr. McCALLUM: Well, I think what happened was the second aspect of what you said, which was the other official joining into it. You know, I've sat in the office of Stu Jackson, who's the NBA sort of supervisor of officials. Every day, sometimes on the hour, he gets a call about a complaint that somebody says, `Hey, watch Dirk Nowitzki swinging his elbows. Tracy McGrady walks too much,' and Stu Jackson says, `OK. We'll take a look at it.'
So there's a difference between somebody claiming that something's incompetent and somebody saying that there's kind of a conspiracy, that there's more than one person on it, that the referees have joined together, they're listening to Mark Cuban. That's the aspect that raised this above the normal.
BLOCK: You know, there's one irony here, which is that Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is known for sending tapes to the league to complain about bad calls or missed calls. Is it implausible that the NBA would, in fact, be responding to his complaints?
Mr. McCALLUM: Well, I mean, Cuban would say it the other way. Cuban would say that no matter what he says that the NBA would do the opposite. Cuban actually has toned down a little bit. I mean, he was just relentless in this criticism. I mean, he kept individual records which he shared with me and other reporters about this official tends to only call this and this official--I mean, he really, really detailed what he considered to be some of the tendencies of the referees.
I think, to a certain extent, the NBA--they listen to him a little bit with what they said. And they were aware of Mark Cuban. Since then, he's backed off a little bit. So he's somewhat more of a reliable voice box than he used to be a couple years ago.
BLOCK: Now you've got this investigation now where the league's security department is trying to figure out which referee might have been talking to Coach Van Gundy, telling him about this. Where does that lead? Does Jeff Van Gundy have to reveal his source assuming that he does, in fact, have one?
Mr. McCALLUM: Well, you know, it's 35 years; we still don't who Deep Throat is. So I'll tell you this. There's four words that matter here, and that is `Don't mess with David.' David Stern, if he gets the bit between his teeth on something, he is not going to let it up. So I think, you know, they will definitely press Van Gundy for his answer, but you know, Stern's a lawyer, too. And like a lot of legal cases, my guess is there's going to be some sort of settlement. If Jeff is not going to reveal his source, then he's going to say something like, `I exaggerated slightly. It was innocent. I apologize.' That's my best guess of what will happen.
BLOCK: Jack McCallum, thanks very much.
Mr. McCALLUM: Thank you.
BLOCK: Jack McCallum is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.
Our thanks to ESPN for audio of David Stern.
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