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Utah Jazz: Sloan long ago moved on from 1998

Published: Thursday, June 19 2008 12:01 a.m. MDT

The 2008 NBA finals are done, Boston has won, and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan won't go back and watch the replays.

Just like he hasn't watched a second showing of the 1998 NBA finals, in which Sloan's Utah team lost 10 years ago to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Sloan, in fact, has never even watched footage of the controversial series-ending Game 6 of those '98 finals.

That's the one in which referee Dick Bavetta — subject of questions to other NBA referees from federal investigators following up on claims of impropriety made by disgraced ref and convicted felon Tim Donaghy — made a couple of decisions that to this day continue to be discussed and debated by disgruntled Jazz faithful.

"You could drive yourself crazy with stuff like that," Sloan said earlier this week, the morning after the 10th anniversary of that Game 6. "So what do you do about it? You go on about your business.

"It's like feeling sorry for yourself when (now-retired Jazz stars) John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone) left. It's the same deal. You have to go ahead and move on with your job and forget that. We're still here trying to work and do the best we can to try to get better.

"If you're gonna live your life on things like that," the 20-season-long Jazz coach added, "then you're gonna be pretty miserable."

It's all water under the bridge, in other words, in Sloan's world.

"That's all you can do," he said. "That's the way I looked at it. Yeah, we were upset and thinking, 'Yeah, maybe things should have gone our way.' But that's part of life, I guess. You have to live with it and go on. You're not gonna change it."

That includes the Jazz-Bulls Game 6 calls by Bavetta, who also was one of three refs who worked the 2002 NBA Western Conference finals Game 6 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings.

Bavetta, a former New Yorker now living in Florida, just concluded his 33rd NBA season as referee.

Another was Bob Delaney, a highly decorated former New Jersey State Police undercover agent who once infiltrated the mob (he wrote a book about the experience that was released earlier this year, "Covert") — and someone who has his share of on-court disagreements with Sloan, including a 1993 incident in which Sloan was suspended one game for bumping Delaney.

According to a letter filed last week to a federal judge in New York from an attorney for Donaghy — who faces up to 33 months in federal prison when sentenced July 14 for taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on NBA games himself — two referees, so-called "company men," manipulated the outcome of that Lakers-Kings game with calls and non-calls to force a deciding and revenue-generating Game 7 in that series.

Bavetta has not spoken publicly about the matter since then, as active NBA refs frequently are shielded by the league from discussing their work with the media.

Still-active Delaney has, telling ESPN, "This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system."

The Lakers went on to win the Game 6 in question, then won Game 7 of the conference series and eventually captured the 2002 NBA championship.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that "after determining (California) state charges were not possible because of (a three-year state) statute of limitations (for felonies), the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has referred Donaghy's claims of NBA referee misconduct to federal prosecutors in Los Angeles," because they "may have more time to pursue a prosecution."

NBA commissioner David Stern has fully backed the generally highly regarded Bavetta and all the rest of his referees, suggesting Donaghy's claims are the desperate act of a criminal and rogue ref hoping to shave prison time.

Even after reports late last week revealed at least two former referees had been questioned by law-enforcement officials specifically about Bavetta — Hue Hollins, and another unidentified one who told the New York Times he was asked essentially if Bavetta had a tendency to favor home teams — the veteran ref worked last Sunday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals between Boston and the Lakers.

The Celtics won that series Tuesday night, taking Game 6 in Boston.

As for Game 6 of the Utah-Chicago finals in '98, Bavetta and his crew — Hollins and Dan Crawford were the other refs, but Bavetta was in charge — were involved in at least three calls/non-calls that continue to haunt many Jazz fans now 10-plus years later.

The first, relived during the Game 6 replay shown by ESPN Classic on the 10th anniversary last Saturday, involved a second-quarter shot by Jazz backup point guard Howard Eisley.

Less than 10 minutes remained in the quarter, and the Jazz were up by four at the time. Time was running down on the 24-second shot clock as Antoine Carr's long pass from down low sailed over the hands of Shandon Anderson, but Eisley chased down the ball and hoisted a 3-pointer that fell.

Bavetta disallowed the basket, much to the dismay of the NBC broadcast crew calling the game nationally.

Play-by-play announcer Bob Costas' call at the time: "Are they calling a shot-clock violation? Let's see. Dick Bavetta says, 'yes,' and they wave it off, though it appeared to me as he (Eisley) had beaten it."

Costas, after watching a replay moments later: "See if the ball isn't out of his hand. One second ... it's on the way, and they missed the call."

Analyst and ex-Bulls coach Doug Collins: "It's a big break for the Chicago Bulls. ... That should have counted. That's a big turnaround."

Sloan could be seen muttering some words, and later during the game he told NBC sideline reporter Jim Gray, "That's horrible, but I don't want to get thrown out of the game."

· · · · ·

Fast-forward to the fourth quarter of Jazz-Bulls '98 Game 6, a game — it should be noted, in light of questions from investigators about Bavetta — that was played in Salt Lake City.

Utah is ahead 79-77 when Ron Harper of the Bulls hits a jumper with just under four minutes to go.

Costas' initial call: "He (Harper) beats the shot clock and cans a huge shot."

Though Bavetta himself did not appear responsible for the decision, his crew allowed the shot to stand.

After a break in the action, and with the benefit of replay, however, the NBC crew saw things differently, hindsight allowing for much-clearer focus.

Analyst Isiah Thomas: "You watch Harper as he takes this shot. Does he get it off in time? That's a tough call."

Costas: "They took a Howard Eisley three away, wrongly, in the first half. This one was even closer, but it appeared that Harper may have been a fraction of a second behind the shot clock."

More from Thomas: "I think that was a shot-clock violation."

But it counted anyway, helping to set up — after Jordan's steal from Malone — the most-debated call of the game.

Jordan's jumper with 5.2 seconds left gave the Bulls their ultimate margin of victory and a second-straight finals series win over the Jazz, 87-86.

Initial calls by the NBC crew suggested nothing about a shove, or push-off, on defender Bryon Russell by Jordan before the shot.

Bavetta, who was on top of the play, called no foul.

And, even after a replay, Collins said, "Bryon Russell slipped."

Thomas, though, saw things differently.

"Watch Jordan's left hand here," the ex-Detroit Pistons star said, "as he gives Russell the push. ... The great thing about Jordan is he has all the tricks. That's why it's so difficult to guard him."

Russell's take on it all?

"The way I see it, it's history," he told SI.com, Sports Illustrated's Web site, last week. "An unbelievable play. A great shot. I put judgment into the hands of those who see it and really understand the game. I don't really question it.

"I thought I played the best defense I could have played on him," Russell said. "He got the shot up. Whether I slipped or they just missed the call, I thought I put myself in a great position to stop him. I give credit where credit is due."

Still, the debate rages on, especially in light of the recent anniversary and Bavetta's name being in the news so much lately.

For Jerry Sloan, however, there is no need to fret, no reason, even, to wonder.

Asked if in retrospect the calls from Game 6 all came down to a matter of judgment, he nods the affirmation.

"Officiating — most of it's all judgment," he said.

Asked if he was concerned by anything beyond that, Sloan read into it the possibility of something perhaps more sinister and responded quite contrarily.

"How can I be?" he asked. "Why can I be?"

Such is the case with all calls, he suggested — even if it is often difficult to accept in the heat of the moment.

"My job is to put players out there, and hopefully they play basketball and not say, 'OK, I got (cheated) on the last play, I'm gonna spend two hours trying to get that back,'" said Sloan, who also was suspended for seven games in 2003 for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland. "Sometimes I do that, to a fault, as everybody knows, in my job.

"But I try to keep the players out of that sort of thing," added Sloan, who frequently lets refs know what he's thinking in no uncertain — and sometimes profanity-laced — terms. "That's why I've always said ... 'You don't play backward, you've got to play forward.'"

Early in the season after those '98 finals, Bavetta approached Sloan and offered some words. "As I recall," the Jazz coach said, "he just said, 'Sorry if I made some mistakes during the game, and good luck to you.' Basically, that's all. What else could he say?"

Asked about what some might deem to have been an apology, Sloan needed no time before offering his thoughts.

"What does it change?" he asked. "If a guy makes a mistake, what else can you say?

"He felt like he made a mistake, and that's fine. I'll live with that," Sloan said. "I've made mistakes myself. Plenty of them."

3 questionable calls

Three controversial decisions from referee Dick Bavetta and his crew in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals between the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls:

A 3-pointer in the second quarter by Jazz guard Howard Eisley was not allowed because it supposedly came after the 24-second shot clock had expired, even though TV replays clearly indicate otherwise.

A jumper by Chicago's Ron Harper in the fourth quarter was allowed to stand, even though NBC broadcast crew members thought it should have been a shot-clock violation.

Michael Jordan either pushing off or not pushing off Bryon Russell — depending on one's perspective — before his game-winning shot with 5.2 seconds remaining.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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