You have to believe there are only a few good men who really know if Shaquille O'Neal is giving hand signals to his teammates to freeze out Kobe Bryant, and Jack Nicholson has to be one of them, sitting in the front row for many of the Laker games.
I don't want to say it's a confirmation, but a spokesman for Jack said it would be safe to quote him: "You want the truth--you can't handle the truth!"
A month ago, a story in the Chicago Tribune suggested something like this was going on, and Sunday another report surfaced in the New York Times.
I'm guessing it's the Washington Post's turn next, and come to think of it, do you know why President Clinton canceled Monday's White House visit with the Lakers to celebrate their NBA title?
I'm pretty sure the Secret Service didn't want a 300-pound behemoth coming into the White House with the capability of wriggling his little finger and having 10 other guys do as he ordered.
Now the thing is, if Shaq has been putting out signals, he's really good at it, which means practice, practice, practice.
This would take something away from the rest of his game, of course, which would explain his performance at the free-throw line.
Let's be honest here, if this is happening, it's Phil Jackson giving the signals to Shaq, who passes them to his teammates. You notice how every time Phil crinkles his nose, Shaq does too, and the ball goes to Rick Fox.
I CALLED CHICK HEARN at the Lakers' hotel in Miami, because Chick describes every Laker play, and he has never once said anything about this.
It's not like Chick to hold back. For example, after Shaq missed a layup against the Heat on Tuesday night, he said, "My grandma could have made that." And I'm guessing Chick's grandma is around 124 years old.
"I don't see it," Chick said when asked about the possibility Shaq has been signaling his teammates. "I'm sure going to be more alert, though."
Sure enough, Chick noticed it in the fourth quarter, just like I did. This time the signal was being given to the officials to stop Kobe, twice whistling him for offensive fouls--three fouls all together in a span of minutes, prompting Chick to say, "This is the maddest I've ever seen Kobe on the floor."
At some point, enough is enough. I mean when you have Phil, Shaq, all the Laker role players and even the officials trying to keep the ball out of Kobe's hands, it's going to take its toll. Sooner or later, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't come up with his own hand signals.
IN THE CLOSING minutes of the Laker victory over the Heat, Horace Grant made two key shots. When Miami called timeout, Laker reserve Mark Madsen greeted Grant with an enthusiastic chest bump. I'm not sure Tampa Bay defender Warren Sapp has ever hit anyone as hard--I wondered if Grant would require smelling salts before returning to the game.
WHEN I HEARD on the radio the Buffalo Bills had scheduled a news conference with a major announcement, I thought maybe Doug Flutie had grown an inch.
But it was to announce the firing of general manager John Butler.
AND NOW THE REST of the story . . . the firing of Butler, the decision by Coach Mike Riley to stay with the Chargers and USC stuck with the leftovers.
While Riley wrestled with the decision whether to stay or leave, it's known that Butler passed word through an NFL broadcaster to Riley that if Butler were to join the Chargers as general manager, he would keep Riley as coach.
Riley made a final decision to stay Thursday night after getting assurances from owner Dean Spanos that he would coach the team next year, which would suggest that Spanos knew at the time whom (Butler) he would be hiring as GM.
Spanos had said earlier he would allow a new GM to determine who would coach the team next year, which prevented him from guaranteeing Riley's job. On Saturday, Spanos guaranteed to the team that Riley would be back next season.
After Riley informed the Trojans he was staying with the Chargers on Thursday, the school consummated a deal with Pete Carroll. So in hindsight, Butler may have played a role in determining who would coach USC.
UCLA WIDE RECEIVER Freddie Mitchell said, "You've got the best receiver in the nation and the best defensive back in the nation going head-on in one game." I was not aware that Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Bryant, the Biletnikoff Award winner as best receiver in the nation, was playing in the Sun Bowl.
THE 49ERS HAVE won six games this season against an opposition that has a collective 23-67 record, and to put it in perspective, Coach Steve Mariucci said, "We haven't beaten a team with a winning record."
San Francisco's task is now to go into Denver and beat the 10-5 Broncos in the last regular-season game to be played in Mile High Stadium before it's demolished. A 49er victory would give Oakland the AFC West title.
"This is the first time ever the Raiders will be rooting for us," Mariucci said.
I'm sure that will make a difference in how the 49ers play.
ON XTRA (690), John Fricke pointed out that the University of San Diego, coached by Brad Holland, received two points in the USA Today/ESPN weekly basketball poll--one of 57 teams to get a mention. UCLA didn't earn a point.
Fricke jokingly suggested he was now going to lead the charge to have Holland become UCLA's new basketball coach. I think he was joking.
TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Philip:
"Pretend you're a journalist and do some research. Phil Beck represented G.W. Bush and 'killed' his opponent's chances of winning the presidency."
Great, now I'm supposed to know who this G.W. Bush is.
T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com