Stu Jackson

begs to differ with our interpretation of how the league dispenses justice.

Two weeks ago, we wondered how Shaquille O'Neal avoided a fine (or worse) after criticizing official Eddie F. Rush following Game 1 of Miami's series with Chicago. And how the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich didn't get a suspension after tossing his mouthpiece into the crowd, when the Heat's Udonis Haslem got a game suspension in the playoffs last year after tossing his mouthpiece.

And how the league could suspend referee Joey Crawford for the playoffs when it had given its officials much more latitude in disciplining players who continued to complain about calls. Crawford tossed the Spurs' Tim Duncan, who was sitting on his team's bench, while Duncan was laughing - which Crawford interpreted as laughing at the officials.

Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president, basketball operations, called and said we were off base.

"We gather all the information we have, from video and investigation, and we make a determination," Jackson said. "They're not easy. Sometimes there are substantial differences. But we try to be as consistent as possible."

Let's take 'em one at a time.

Shaq: Jackson says that O'Neal has gotten very clever in the words he uses when bashing the officiating. In this case, O'Neal said Rush "derailed me," and the league interpretation was, taken literally, O'Neal could prove that that was indeed what happened. So there was no fine.

"We thought long and hard about it," Jackson said. "If you put [O'Neal] on the witness stand, he might say, 'He derailed me.' Well, he did. But it wasn't, in my understanding, that kind of [over the line] criticism. He made reference to flopping . . . we just couldn't quite get there. You can interpret it the other way, as 'he got me off my game. I came out to play my game, but he got me off my game.' "

Hinrich: Jackson says the key differences between Hinrich and Haslem were (a) the closest referee didn't see Hinrich toss his mouthpiece into the crowd, and (b) the league determined that Haslem was throwing his mouthpiece at a referee - ironically, Crawford.

"Had he seen [Hinrich] throw the mouthpiece, he would have been ejected," Jackson said. "But we do not suspend players for throwing things. He should have been ejected."

We pointed out to Jackson that that leaves a rather large loophole for any player who, say, conks a fan in the head with the ball. Surely that player would be suspended for the next game.

"There's still a chance that he would be suspended," Jackson allowed under that hypothetical.

Crawford: The league says that the 30-year veteran is not a mind reader, and as such, did not have justification for throwing Duncan out of the game.

"How does Joey know, from across the floor, what [Duncan] was laughing at?" Jackson said. "There were some players laughing on the bench. [Robert] Horry was there. [Michael] Finley was there . . . You can't indiscriminately determine 'he's showing us up.' "

Jackson says there's a difference between a referee's running a player on the court who refuses to stop arguing about a call and someone who is sitting on the bench.

"We gave the officials leeway," Jackson said. "But this was a guy sitting on the bench. . . . We 'T' guys up all the time for yelling from the bench. We suspended Reggie Miller [in 2001] for throwing something from the bench. But [Duncan] was laughing."

Rasheed Wallace should try that next time.