There have been times in history when it has been perfectly understandable for those on the losing side of a battle to skip the press conference afterward. Hitler, for instance, comes to mind, and Ferdinand Marcos, and of course Gen. George Custer. It made sense when Joe Frazier didn't talk a lot after the second Ali fight, even though

he won, since he was in a hospital ward; and nobody questioned why Henry Marsh didn't rush to the press room after the last Olympic steeplechase, since he was lying unconscious on the finish line.But Tuesday night in the Forum didn't qualify as one of those times.

When Frank Layden put a gag order on the Jazz locker room following Utah's 111-109 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers he begged the laws of logic and decency, not to mention deadlines.

He didn't refuse to talk, or let anyone else in the Jazz family talk, because someone had died. Nobody had cancer. The Constitution hadn't fallen. No one, so far as anyone knew, had even been misquoted in the newspapers the day before.

The Jazz had lost and Layden, upset by the officiating and other cruelties of life, was pouting.

For a full 45 minutes after the game's heart-stopping finish the Jazz locker room remained as impenetrable as the Chinese face of Everest. A couple of unsuspecting reporters tried the door early, only to have it shut back on them by Jazz assistant coaches assigned to sentry duty.

Layden just sat there, inside the door. He didn't go into the press conference in the adjoining hockey locker room where more than 50 reporters and members of TV camera crews waited. This was the same room where just a week before Layden told sheep jokes to the L. A. media.

The media contingent grew restless, since it was, after all, getting to be that time of night, and now there was this new and unpleasant wrinkle: the prospect of writing or filing a story without Jazz locker room quotes.

The Laker players had given their quotes and were already leaving. Byron Scott passed by the Jazz locker room, making his way through the media crowd. This being L.A., there was a sizeable group by now, representing, it should be noted, much of sporting America.

Jim Murray, the L.A. Times columnist, was waiting; so was Roy Firestone of ESPN. Camera crews from CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN shifted nervously from one foot to the other. Firestone had just been told by Lakers general manager Jerry West that the game had been one of the best in NBA history. He wanted to see what the Jazz thought of that.

The media had the Jazz outnumbered by a good five to one, and could have stormed the door. But that kind of entrance doesn't generally create an amiable interviewing atmosphere.

An L. A. reporter hung a sign on the door: "Closed Till Christmas."

Craig Bolerjack of KSL-TV arrived late, after doing rounds in the Lakers' locker room. He boldly pushed open the door, catching the sentries off guard.

"Any comment Frank?" asked Bolerjack, poking his head around the corner and trying to sound up.

Bolerjack didn't want to repeat what Frank said to him, but an L.A.-area reporter heard enough to understand that the Jazz coach had a suggestion concerning where and what the press could do with themselves - and it didn't include meeting him for pasta later at Lasorda's.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Josh Rosenfeld, the Lakers P.R. director.

Neither had Bill Kreifeldt, the Jazz P.R. director. Kreifeldt is an avid runner and looked like he wished he was on a nice slow 10K about now.

Through Kreifeldt, Layden said: "We're going to keep our cool. We have nothing to say."

A contradiction in terms if ever there's been one.

Certainly Frank Layden isn't the first person to dodge the press. Steve Carlton turned it into an artform.

But this was taking it to a new depth - a whole team incommunicado, by order of the boss.

When the Jazz finally emerged from their locker room the players kept silent - following Layden through the Forum's underground corridors to the exit.

It was the only sheep joke of the night.

"Frank, why won't you talk?" asked a reporter. But it was as useless as asking a teen-age girl the same question after a bad date.

Certainly a fine will come. The league's rules concerning the opening of locker rooms are well set. It might be $10,000 or $10 - depending on what value the NBA decides to assign to the loss of potential ink and air time.

Maybe it will be a punishment to fit the crime. Frank will be grounded for two weeks, he won't get to watch Cosby and Family Ties, and he won't be allowed to use the family car.

Or he might have his cable TV line cut off - for taking the fun and games out of fun and games.

It's all reminiscent of the old joke about the mother who pulls the covers off her son and tells him he's gotta get out of bed and get ready for school.

"But the kids laugh at me and tease me," says the son. "I don't want to go to school."

"You have to," says the mom. "You're the principal."

Frank has to too. He's the coach.