SALT LAKE CITY — Following Wednesday night's 120-105 victory over Utah at the Salt Palace, Laker Coach Pat Riley called Jazz Coach Frank Layden "bigger than life."
Considering Layden's weight, he is bigger than almost anything you can name. Life, the Salt Palace, Utah.
But Riley wasn't making a joke about the size of the Jazz coach's girth. Riley was talking about the size of Layden's heart.
In the opening minute of the third quarter, Laker forward James Worthy drove toward the basket and caught an elbow from Utah forward Rich Kelley in the right eye.
The Lakers took a 20-second timeout while trainer Gary Vitti examined Worthy.
Determining that Worthy required a closer look, Vitti took the forward to the dressing room.
That forced Riley to call a regular two-minute timeout, hoping that Worthy could return to shoot his two free throws. He knew that if Worthy didn't return in time to take the free throws, not only would Layden be able to choose the Laker to take the shots but also Worthy wouldn't be allowed back in the game.
When the two minutes passed, Worthy still hadn't come back.
So Layden called a timeout, giving Worthy two more minutes to return.
In the winning-is-everything environment of professional sports, it was a rare moment.
It was a particularly selfless gesture considering the Lakers were leading by only four points at the time against a team that has not secured a National Basketball Assn. playoff berth.
"He didn't have to do that, but that's Frank Layden," Riley said. "It was one of the classiest things I've ever seen in this league.
"He could have stuck us, but that's the way he is. Sometime there are things that are more important than winning and losing."
Layden said he owed it to the 10,158 fans, many of whom he knew came to see the Lakers and not the Jazz, to his players and to the integrity of the league.
"The people paid to see Worthy play, and I think we wanted to play with him in the game," Layden said. "I didn't book their junior varsity. I wanted their best guys out there."
Nevertheless, Worthy still couldn't return following Utah's timeout, having suffered a scratched cornea that could keep him out of one game but probably no more.
Now if Layden were truly generous, he would have put Magic Johnson, a 83.2% free-throw shooter, on the line in Worthy's place.
But there is a limit to Layden's charity.
He chose Kurt Rambis, a 63.5% free-throw shooter.
"Nothing personal," Layden called to Rambis.
"Sure," said Rambis, who, much to the crowd's delight missed the first three throw before making the second.
Layden, whose team suffered its second 15-point loss to the Lakers in two nights, was not so charitable when discussing the officiating of John Vanak and Mike Lauerman.
He was especially upset with Lauerman after a third-quarter exchange that resulted in a technical foul against Layden.
Utah assistant coach Jerry Sloan complained about a call, which drew a retort from Lauerman that Layden considered disrespectful.
"Who in the hell do you think you are?" Layden shouted at Lauerman, who gave the Jazz coach a technical.
"Imagine him screaming at Jerry Sloan," Layden said later. "Someday, he'll see Jerry Sloan in the Hall of Fame. Lauerman's in his last year in the league."
Layden said he plans to write a letter to the league office today to complain about the officiating.
"This game was refereed dangerously," he said. "We had a good crowd here; the NCAA teams (in Salt Lake City for the opening rounds of the West Regional) were visiting; we're playing the Lakers. This was a big night for us, and the refereeing was a travesty.
"We had one player hurt. We're lucky somebody wasn't seriously hurt. We're lucky somebody wasn't killed."
But Layden said the Jazz didn't lose because of the officiating.
The Jazz lost because of 27 points and 10 rebounds by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 23 points by Byron Scott and the floor leadership of Magic Johnson, who had 10 points and 11 assists.
Johnson was in foul trouble for much of the game and played only 30 minutes. But in those 30 minutes, the Lakers outscored the Jazz by 21 points. In the 18 minutes he was on the bench, the Jazz outscored the Lakers by six.
When he returned from the bench for the last time with 10:22 remaining, the Lakers had a one-point lead. They promptly scored 10 straight points and 12 of the next 14 to end the threat.
"Somewhere along the line, you know he's going to do his thing," Riley said.
For the Jazz, reserve forward Fred Roberts had 24 points and guard Darrell Griffith had 20. Center Mark Eaton had eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
It was the Lakers' fifth straight victory, their seventh in the last eight games and their 16th in the last 18. Their magic number for clinching the Pacific Division championship is 1.
Laker Notes Guard Michael Cooper was taken to Centinela Hospital Medical Center Tuesday night for examinations of hand and leg injuries. X-rays proved negative, and despite his injuries, Cooper played in his regular rotation Wednesday night. He had 12 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes. "Mentally and physically, that guy is the best I've ever dealt with," Laker trainer Gary Vitti said of Cooper, who was told he could sit out this game but chose to play. . . . The Lakers return home to play San Antonio Friday night before meeting the Clippers at the Sports Arena Saturday night. . . . This was Utah's first game at the Salt Palace since Feb. 18. The Jazz has played its home games at the University of Utah's court while an ice show took over the Salt Palace. . . . The Jazz's Adrian Dantley missed his 15th straight game because of a hamstring injury.