CHICAGO -- When the Chicago Bulls tripped over the Phoenix Suns in triple-overtime here Sunday, ruining their chances for a four-game sweep of the 1993 NBA Finals, at least one cynical columnist, Steve Rosenbloom, of the Chicago Sun-Times, hinted a conspiracy to extend the series for the benefit of NBC, which gains $10 million in advertising sales with a guaranteed fifth game.
Rosenbloom protested the presence of officiating chief Darell Garretson and noted the disparity in free throws in Game 3 -- 31 for the visiting Suns to only nine for the Bulls -- in arguing his case.
With the ratings for the finals the third-highest ever, Rosenbloom suggested a possible sixth game in Phoenix this Sunday would put the NBA head-to-head against CBS' "60 Minutes," the ratings leader.
NBA officials have been angered by the conspiracy talk, and even the players seem disturbed.
"I don't believe there is any truth in this [conspiracy theory]," said Suns guard Danny Ainge, who also played in the Finals with Boston (1984 and 1986) and with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992. "Every team I've played on has been paranoid that somebody is controlling it, the officials and the NBA and NBC."
The Washington Bullets, who own the sixth pick in the June 30 NBA draft, will invite Nevada-Las Vegas swingman J. R. Rider, Indiana forward Calbert Cheaney and Wake Forest forward Rodney Rogers for private workouts and talks this week.
One of the three will almost certainly be available when the Bullets' turn comes. Washington is reportedly leaning to Rider because of his explosive offensive skills.
On the coaching front, Bullets assistant Bill Blair received permission to talk to Indiana Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh about joining Larry Brown's staff next season.
"We've just talked," Blair said yesterday. "Nothing specific has been offered yet. I'm just one of several guys they're considering."
Blair worked for Brown in New Jersey in the early 1980s, and replaced him as head coach of the Nets for the final six games of the 1982-83 season when Brown announced he was leaving for the University of Kansas.
Reserve Bulls center Scott Perdue was visibly upset about riding the bench during the first three games of the championship series. During the regular season, he appeared in 72 games, averaging 13.9 minutes and 4.7 points.
"If you complain about not playing, you look like a bad guy," said the fifth-year veteran from Vanderbilt. "I thought I'd get time playing against [Suns centers] Mark West or Oliver Miller.
"It was real frustrating Sunday, sitting through three overtimes, especially with a couple of our guys looking tired. I'm willing to go in there and give a guy a rest for a minute or two, anything to help us win. It seems every year I've been here, the deeper we get into the playoffs, the less I play."
A restricted free agent, Perdue may find a new home next season. The Bulls have to make room in their salary cap to sign Yugoslav star Toni Kukoc.
Magic Johnson, serving as a game analyst for NBC, is part of an investment group seeking an expansion NBA team in Toronto. He has two other competitors.
"My main goal right now is to see that Toronto gets the best franchise possible," said the former Lakers star, who rejected a coaching offer from the L.A. Clippers when he could not become a team investor. "Our Toronto group already has the right to build a new arena. If we get the team, I'll be the president, general manager, everything."
The Clippers exercised the $4 million option on guard Ron Harper's contract for next season. That ties Harper with Michael Jordan for the fourth-highest salary behind San Antonio's David Robinson ($5.65 million), Cleveland's John Williams ($4.57 million) and the Los Angeles Lakers' Vlade Divac ($4.13 million).
"I'd always like a raise, but I wouldn't complain for it," said Jordan, refuting a report that he will demand $30 million in his final season with the Bulls. "I've never played this game for
money. If I did, I'd have renegotiated. Anyway, $30 million wouldn't be for one year. It would be the Bulls' appreciation for what I've done for this franchise."
"Charles is King Kong Bundy and I'm The Undertaker," said Grant. "Whoever outlasts his opponent wins the match."
Said Barkley, "Horace is a good guy, someone I enjoy playing against. He comes to play every day, and I respect that."
Windy City fan
The sociable Barkley has enjoyed visiting all the Chicago hot spots and mingling with the citizens. "They're nice people here. They're not like New Yorkers. Here, they're civilized."