DALLAS – The NBA fined Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy (search) $100,000 — the largest amount ever for a coach — on Monday, a day after he accused officials of targeting center Yao Ming this postseason and said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is to blame.
While Van Gundy laughed off the penalty and Yao offered to pick up half the tab, the matter jumped to another, far more serious level. Commissioner David Stern called the fine "an intermediary step," adding that an investigation will continue once the Houston Rockets (search) finish their playoff run.
He said further punishment is possible, even implying that Van Gundy could face a lifetime ban.
"If he's going to say things like that, he's not going to continue in this league," Stern said. "If the attitude reflected in those comments continues to be public, he's going to have a big problem with me as long as I'm commissioner."
After the Rockets' 103-100 loss to the Mavericks (search) in Game 5 Monday night, Van Gundy called Stern's statement "interesting." But the coach stood by what he had said.
"I didn't see anything wrong with what I said," Van Gundy explained. "But certainly, obviously, for a statement like that to come out, he obviously differs. ... That's all right."
Stern said the league is both furious at what Van Gundy said and that he refuses to divulge the official he claims told him that referees "were looking at Yao harder because of Mark's complaints" to the league office.
"This is the first case I can remember when an allegation has been made and the perpetrator hasn't cooperated," Stern said. "At this time of year, there usually is a craziness in the land that has to do with referees as coaches jockey for position. This one, in our view, set a new low for that. That's why the fine is what it was and that's why the investigation is continuing."
Van Gundy got himself into trouble by telling three reporters at the team hotel in Dallas on Sunday night that a referee not working the playoffs called him after the Rockets went up 2-0 and warned that Yao was mentioned in an online evaluation from supervisor of officials Ronnie Nunn.
Van Gundy added that because Cuban "has been hard on" the league and officials, "he's gotten the benefit."
"I didn't think that really worked in the NBA, but in this case it has," Van Gundy said.
He stood by his complaints Monday and said he's made many of them privately to the league all season.
"I said what I said. I believe what I believe and I've seen what I've seen. They've got to do what they think is right," Van Gundy said. "I would watch all of (Yao's) 20 fouls with anyone. And I would have no problems making my case that he's not refereed appropriately. I stand by that."
For the most part, though, Van Gundy cracked jokes about the fallout, saying things like his wife might make him sleep on the porch. He also laughed about the fine coming from league vice president Stu Jackson, who in 1989 was coach of the Knicks and hired Van Gundy as an assistant.
"Stu brought me into the NBA so he giveth, and now he taketh away," Van Gundy said.
He teased the team's PR director, who was standing next to him, for allowing him to speak to reporters on a travel day — "Gee, no more non-mandatory media days for me," he said — and especially got a kick out of his fine being "double worst" the previous largest, a $50,000 hit on Pat Riley in 2003 and Phil Jackson in 2004.
"If that's the worst thing that's happened in the NBA from a coaching perspective, so be it," he said.
As for protecting his source, Van Gundy practically rolled his eyes at his refusal to give up his friend during his conversation with league security.
"I felt like I was in Watergate or something," he said.
When told about reporters who are facing 18 months in jail for protecting sources, Van Gundy laughed and said, "My guy would have to be on his own. I'd cut him loose."
Van Gundy clarified that his complaints aren't with the officials, but with the way officials are asked to call games — such as having certain points of emphasis.
"Believe me, I've been blessed to make enough money that if this goes to good causes, that's a good thing," said Van Gundy, in the second year of an $18 million, four-year contract.
However, he may not have to pay the whole thing. Yao offered to split the fee because "coach was talking about me."
"I feel I need to do it that way," Yao said.
Cuban, who has been fined more than $1 million since buying the team five years ago, found little irony in someone getting fined for comments involving him and his pet target, the way officials do their job.
"It's nice to see someone else buying the coffee and danish for the NBA," he said.
When first learning about Van Gundy's comments, Cuban said in an e-mail that the accusations were "crazy" and "an insult to officials." He also noted that Dallas center Erick Dampier has picked up quick fouls in every game in this series.
"They don't officiate individual players differently," Cuban wrote.
Cuban said the Mavs sent the league a list of plays they thought could've been called moving screens on Yao and backup Dikembe Mutombo. He said the league responded that "nine were actually moving screens and should have been called but were not."
"So if anything, he has it completely backward," Cuban said.
Yao fouled out of Game 1 in 20 minutes. He had four fouls in Game 2, when he made 13 of 14 shots and scored 33 points, then had five fouls in each of the last two games.
Dampier fouled out of Game 4 in 18 minutes. He had five fouls in 19 minutes of Game 3.