NEW YORK -- No contact with the neck, no suspension.
The NBA ruled Thursday that Bryant committed a flagrant foul 1 with his elbow to the upper body of Houston's Ron Artest during Wednesday night's Rockets-Lakers game, a penalty that does not carry an automatic suspension.
"In this case had he made contact in his head area, certainly we'd be evaluating it on a different level," said Stu Jackson, NBA vice president of basketball operations. "The elbow was delivered as part of [a] rebounding play under the basket. It made contact to the chest area, and upon that review we deemed it to be a flagrant 1. It's clear in our rules that we treat elbow contact above the shoulder area differently than we do for other parts of the body."
On the Bryant-Artest play, the two were battling for position when Bryant struck Artest with his elbow. Artest immediately began gesturing and arguing that he had been elbowed in the neck, but replays appeared to show Bryant's elbow striking Artest on his upper chest, just above the "R" on Artest's Rockets jersey.
Artest was ejected for arguing for getting in Bryant's face and refusing to stop jawing at Bryant, a judgment call by referee Joey Crawford that Jackson deemed proper.
No foul was called on Bryant on the play, although the retroactive flagrant foul means he will carry one flagrant foul point into Game 3. Players receive a one-game suspension if they accumulate four flagrant foul points in the playoffs.
The elbow-above-the-shoulders rule -- a copy of which is sent by the league office to each NBA player prior to the regular season and again prior to the postseason -- was the one invoked to suspend Dwight Howard of Orlando in Game 6 of the first round.
"It's not cut-and-dried, because certainly there have been players hit in the head with elbows, and we haven't suspended those players because it was inadvertent or part of a basketball play that in some cases was unavoidable," Jackson said.
Jackson also issued a one-game suspension to Derek Fisher for leveling Houston's Luis Scola with a lowered shoulder, and to Orlando's Rafer Alston for smacking Boston's Eddie House in the back of the head with an open hand during the second half of Wednesday night's Celtics-Magic game.
Both players will serve their suspensions Friday night in Game 3 of their respective series, both of which are tied 1-1.
Jackson attended the Rockets-Lakers game and then took a red-eye flight back to New York and headed to the league's Fifth Avenue office tower to review the plays in question.
On the Fisher foul, the replays appeared to show clear premeditation -- which usually is enough for the league to tack on an accompanying one-game suspension. In this particular case, the league took the unusual step of interviewing both players before making a ruling.
"Typically we don't, but the focus here was really to try and determine what relationship was between the two players during the game, and what precipitated the incident," Jackson said.
In the Magic-Celtics game, Alston hit House in the back of the head with an open hand after House hit a 3-point shot. And while Alston's smack appeared not to fall under the rule that calls for an automatic suspension for throwing a punch, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said league rules do not differentiate between using a closed fist or an open hand when dealing with a so-called "punch." If the NBA deems it was a punch, it doesn't matter what shape the player's hand was in, Frank said.
"We didn't think much about this penalty because the rule here is clear -- any player who swings his hand, whether with an open or closed fist and whether or not that hand connects -- we suspend them for one game. Clearly, that's exactly what Rafer did: swung at Eddie House and made contact with his head," Jackson said.
Alston argued that House made contact first by elbowing him in the stomach after hitting a 3-pointer, but Jackson said that contact was "marginal at best."
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.