TALL IN THE SADDLE: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never played basketball at Phoenix's America West Arena, but he moseyed in there Friday on horseback to take part in the celebrity cattle cutting competition at the Coors Rodeo Showdown.

What's a 51-year-old, 7-foot-2 NBA great from New York City doing in a rodeo?"I've been into it ever since I was a kid," Abdul-Jabbar said as he prepared for a practice ride prior to the evening performance. "We used to have a rodeo at Madison Square Garden. It was the Roy Rogers Rodeo. They had it every year. I went pretty often."

Abdul-Jabbar said his interest in riding dates back to his days as a player.

"I bought an English saddle in the '80s, then I began reading about the contributions of the black cowboys and I've been Western ever since," he said. "I do some trail riding. I've done some dressage, then I started messing around with cattle cutting this past year.

"It's a challenge to communicate with the animal and get a job done."

ANOTHER REF SENTENCED: Former NBA referee Joe Crawford was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years' probation Friday for federal income tax fraud.

Crawford was one of eight NBA referees accused of downgrading first-class airline tickets purchased by the league and pocketing the difference without reporting it on his income tax.

The 47-year-old Crawford apologized at his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia and said he was sorry for putting his family and friends through the ordeal.

Crawford, an NBA official for 21 years, pleaded guilty July 1 to one count of tax fraud. He resigned the same day.