By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
NEW YORK, Jan. 30 -- Kobe Bryant said he was "shocked" that his "unintentional" swipe toward the face of San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili could warrant a one-game suspension from the NBA. Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson used the word "astonished." But the league's executive vice president of basketball operations, Stu Jackson, countered by calling the wild forearm that Bryant threw near the end of a nationally televised game on Sunday "an unnatural basketball act."
No one spoke to Bryant's intent, but the fact remained that when his team faced the New York Knicks on Tuesday night, Bryant was barred from Madison Square Garden, forced to miss one game for "striking" Ginobili in the face.
"I haven't seen a precedence for this. Unintentional elbows take place all the time," Bryant said. "I'm blown away by it. It makes no sense."
Bryant received news of his suspension at the Lakers' morning shoot-around and was noticeably distraught afterward, placing his head in his hands after speaking with a group of reporters. Shortly thereafter, Bryant and the NBA players' union asked Commissioner David Stern for an immediate appeal hearing at the league's office -- just minutes from the Lakers' team hotel -- but the league turned down the request.
"That is not the process that we use with the NBA," Stu Jackson said during a conference call. "Certainly in theory, given the fact that we are in New York, we could have heard an appeal but we never have. It's not part of our process."
The suspension occurred as the Lakers began an eight-game road trip in New York, which will take them to Washington on Saturday. "It hurts a lot," said Bryant. "This has always been my favorite place to play and to be suspended for something that I absolutely had no idea something would come down [for]. I unintentionally caught Manu Ginobili. What can you say? You catch people with elbows every once in a while and after the play I felt terrible about it."
With 2.7 seconds remaining in the fourth period of the Lakers' 96-94 overtime loss, Bryant elevated for a shot when Ginobili sneaked in from the side to swat the shot. Bryant then flailed his arms, claiming that he was attempting to draw a foul, but his arm chopped down on Ginobili, who dropped to the floor with a bloody nose. No foul was called.
"The determining factors were the fact that there was contact made with Ginobili above the shoulders and the fact that this particular reaction by Kobe was an unnatural basketball act. Following the shot, he drove a stiff-arm backward in a hard motion and struck Ginobili in the head," Stu Jackson said. "We do not view this as an inadvertent action."
Bryant used the word "unintentional" at least 10 times during his five-minute session with reporters and said he even sought out Ginobili to check on him. "I said: 'I'm sorry, bro. I didn't mean to,' " Bryant said. "I love Manu's game, he's always been a favorite player of mine."
Before Tuesday's game, Phil Jackson said: "I think it's a unilateral decision. . . . This is one of those things that we're questioning, 'Why?'
"I don't think someone who played basketball and knows how people work to try and get a foul or try to create contact to make a foul would question that."