I was trying to talk the other night to Ed Rush, the NBA's referee boss, and hadn't even gotten around to mentioning anything about fixing games, when I noticed Stu Jackson, the league's senior vice president of basketball operations, eavesdropping.
I'm told Rush speaks English, but I sure couldn't make any sense of what he was saying, and all I had said to him was "hello."
At one point I heard Rush mutter something like, "No one is perfect," and I guess Jackson heard the same thing, because that's when he put a stop to our chat.
I would have liked the chance to strongly disagree with Rush, because I think if you put the two best Lakers together with the three best referees, that's a perfect team, probably the best the NBA has ever seen.
I know the five of them did a great job together Friday night to beat the Sacramento Kings.
In fact, right now I'd be willing to trade Rick Fox, Samaki Walker and Robert Horry straight up for Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Ted Bernhardt.
Right now I'd trade Lindsey Hunter and Devean George for an F.P. Santangelo baseball card.
SPORTS EDITOR Bill Dwyre had called from his seat on press row to my seat on press row, because he likes to save his legs for trips to the concession stand, and told me he knew Rush well and Rush would be a good guy to talk with about the officiating in this series, which everyone seems to be talking about now.
I don't recall too many of Dwyre's ideas paying off, but I haven't won the lottery either, so I continue to waste money and buy a ticket every Wednesday and Saturday. I just wish Dwyre had told me I would have learned more about referees from Rush Limbaugh than Ed Rush.
Anyway, I was standing there with Rush when Jackson panicked and he just started blubbering: "I need him, I need him ... "
Right away I was thinking to myself, "Do I know the Heimlich maneuver?" because Jackson looked as though he was choking, and I've seen Derek Fisher try to shoot three-pointers, so I know what choking looks like.
Jackson, however, grabbed Rush by the elbow, cutting him off in mid-gibberish, and began steering him away from me, while repeating, "I need him."
"That's the oldest trick in the book," I yelled as they made their getaway, and while I had never given much stock to this NBA conspiracy talk, these guys were sure acting suspiciously.
In fact, I thought when it came to running and hiding, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett was quick on his feet, but Jackson's got some wheels.
All this took place outside the officials' locker room, and the ruckus prompted a security guard to talk into his lapel. I can't be sure, but I thought I heard him say, "We've got another reporter here trying to follow one of Dwyre's crazy ideas."
I took a few steps toward Jackson and yelled, "He looks like a big boy to me, why not let him talk for himself? You guys got something to hide?"
What were they going to do, give me a T?
They kept moving, and probably would have made a clean break if Wayne Cooper, the Kings' vice president of basketball operations, hadn't stopped them, and while I couldn't hear what was being said, I hope that handshake between the three of them has no bearing on today's outcome.
I HAD the best seat in the arena to determine if there was a problem with the referees Friday night. I could look at Bobby Knight sitting just off to my side, watch the game and check out Knight's reaction every time an official blew his whistle. One bad call, and if he choked his wife, I'd be the first to see it.
The chairs were bolted to the floor, so I felt safe being that close to Knight.
When everyone came to their feet, I was a little concerned because Knight remained planted in his chair, and he couldn't possibly see anything from his vantage point other than the jiggling Laker Girls dancing three feet in front of him, and I'm sure that had to be annoying.
At one point Knight's wife got up and stood between Knight and the runway where the referees would be making their exit, and I thought, "Now that's a good wife." Of course, she was also standing between Knight and the jiggling Laker Girls, and so I also thought, "Now there's a wife."
I DIDN'T hear Knight curse, see him throw anything or make an obscene gesture, so I'd have to say that's proof the refs did a fine job the other night.
SACRAMENTO COACH Rick Adelman, however, implied the officials threw the game the other night, while earlier in the series, the Lakers made the claim the refs were favoring the Kings' cause.
NBC should be videotaping the arrival of the officials instead of the players with Jim Gray asking whom they favor to win. I'd like to see how fast Rush and Jackson would be running if Gray approached them.
More than anything I'd like the feeling everything is on the up and up at such a wonderful climactic moment, and we're not here just because this was shaded ever so slightly for the benefit of NBC and a seventh game.
If I hadn't seen NBA executives running scared, I'd have given them the benefit of the doubt. Now I just wish they'd stop running and tell me who they have winning today.
TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Andy Fox:
"Why even play the games anymore? I have a feeling if you looked behind David Stern you would probably see Vince McMahon standing there with a smile on his face and a script in his hands."
He has to do something with those leftover XFL scripts.
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org