For Utah Jazz fans still holding onto the aggravating notion nine years later that Michael Jordan pushed off against Bryon Russell in June 1998, here's reinforcement from former NBA referee Mike Mathis.
In a story in the New York Post Friday regarding current NBA problems with official Tim Donaghy, who pleaded guilty in federal court this week to betting on games he officiated and being paid for giving guarded information to associates, Mathis also mentioned the Jordan shot that broke Jazz fans' hearts.
Jordan hit an 18-footer in the final seconds of the Chicago Bulls' 87-86 NBA Finals win in the Delta Center that gave the Bulls their second straight NBA championship over the Jazz.
Many Jazz fans have long thought Jordan should have been called for first brushing the defending Russell past him. "He pushed off," Russell said of his posterized moment.
Now Mathis says the same.
As background, the Post points out that this is an official who's been critical of NBA officiating since his retirement in 1991 and who was involved in the improper selling of first-class airline seats.
But Jazz fans will only care about Mathis' thoughts on Jordan's final shot that won his sixth and last championship.
The Post quoted Mathis as saying, in criticizing NBA officiating, "Remember when Jordan hit that winning shot? I'm going to give you exactly what the commentators said: 'What a great move by Michael.' Was that a great move or was that an offensive foul? There was no question it was a push-off. No buts about it. The only buts you can have is, 'Well, it was Michael Jordan.' That was a defining moment."The video tape would never lie," Mathis said. "Here's what could have happened. The referee makes the call and it's, 'No, no. How could he do that? It was Michael Jordan."'
DANDY DERON: Toronto's Chris Bosh (plantar fascitis) removed himself earlier this week from the USA team practicing in Las Vegas for the FIBA Americas tournament that starts there Wednesday and leads to Olympic qualification. But before he left, Bosh told John Schuhman of NBA.com that Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams "just came so far" over the past year.
Williams is apparently the No. 3 point on the U.S. team behind New Jersey's Jason Kidd and Detroit's Chauncey Billups. "He can shoot the ball well, he's big, he's physical, he's quick, he can run an offense and he's unselfish," Bosh said of Williams.
Williams told Schuhman how he's enjoying learning from Kidd, long his hero. "He's a guy that I grew up trying to emulate, trying to be like as a kid," Williams told NBA.com. "And it's kind of surreal right now to be playing on the same team as him, playing under his wing and learning from him.
"He gives me little pointers here and there," Williams said, using the example of a chest pass he'd thrown "when I should have made a bounce pass. (Kidd) came over and told me, 'Drop it down low. There's not as many hands to get through.' He's just helping me out."
Kidd told Schuhman that Williams asks questions and is "very observant."
"You can always learn," Williams said. "I think there's a lot of maturing I can do as far as being a leader on my team."
Sports Illustrated also has nice words for Williams, naming him No. 2 behind Chicago's Luol Deng and ahead of Minnesota's Al Jefferson in its top 10 list of "players on the verge of stardom."Sportsillustrated.com said of Williams, "Having established himself on the big stage, and with the Jazz expected to contend again in the West, Williams should have the profile needed to make the All-Star team."
FREE FOOD: SI had a bit on Williams' Jazz running-mate Carlos Boozer, noting he is a big fish in Utah. "You are more magnified," Boozer said of life in Utah compared to when he played in Cleveland. "When you go out, everybody knows who you are. In Cleveland you could be more anonymous. I get comped at so many restaurants here, though, so I'm not complaining."
FESS: The contract that second-rounder Kyrylo Fesenko signed with the Jazz Wednesday has not yet received full clearance from FIBA and the NBA, though there's no reason to think it won't be completely approved by next week.