Hollins' passing leaves a Jazz-Bulls mystery
Hue Hollins was one of the most respected officials in NBA history.
He spent 27 years in the league before retiring in 2003. He worked the Finals 19 times, including Game 6 between Chicago and the Jazz in 1998.
In the final minute of the Bulls' championship-clinching victory, Hollins was caught in the middle of a truly bizarre incident.
I saw what happened I'm probably one of the few who did and I always wanted to ask Hollins about it. But I never had the chance and never will because, sadly, he died on July 5.
To set the scene:
I was in my usual spot for Game 6 of the Jazz-Bulls series at one end of the press table, two rows up from the court.
Before tipoff, I noticed two Chicago fans sitting courtside just across the aisle from me in seats usually occupied by Jazz season ticket-holders. One wore a distinctive mustard-colored sport coat. But I didn't pay any more attention to them until John Stockton's 3-pointer with 41.2 seconds left gave the Jazz an 86-83 lead.
After a Chicago timeout, the players were returning to the court when the guy in the sport coat stood up. Hollins, who was working the game with Dick Bavetta and Danny Crawford, was almost directly in front of him.
Suddenly, the Bulls fan took a quick step toward Hollins, leaned close to him and said something into his ear.
Hollins' head snapped around. He had a shocked look on his face. He clearly did not believe what he had just heard.
Was it racial?
Was it some kind of threat?
I don't know. But it obviously shocked Hollins, who seemed to instinctively step away from the guy but continued looking at him incredulously until the Bulls inbounded the ball and play resumed.
When Michael Jordan scored to make it 83-82, Hollins was still concerned. Before running back up the floor, he turned around and stared at the fan. At one point, he passed within arm's length of the guy, with the same what-the-hell-did-you-say look on his face.
I couldn't tell if anything else was said at that point. But even as the Jazz advanced the ball up the floor, Hollins kept glancing at the guy a testament, I think, to how out of line he had been.
Of course, you know the rest of the story: Jordan stole the ball, pushed Bryon Russell, made a jump shot and the Bulls won another championship.
In the chaotic moments that followed, the Bulls fan wearing the bad sport coat forgot all about Hollins and rushed onto the court to join Chicago's celebration.
I'm guessing Hollins never forgot that fan.