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The Stalker on the Sidelines No player or coach escapes NBC roving inquisitor Jim Gray, if he can help it

My time is precious," says peripatetic NBC sideline reporter Jim
Gray before Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals, the Los
Angeles Lakers at the Utah Jazz.

10:43 a.m. Gray arrives at the Delta Center for the 1:35 p.m.
tip-off. A producer tells him that Jazz forward Bryon Russell
recently visited a comatose woman in a hospital. An hour after
he left, the woman emerged from the coma. She is expected at
today's game. "Gotta check that one out," says Gray.

10:48 a.m. All 19,911 seats are empty save for a pair occupied
by Gray and Lakers whiz kid Kobe Bryant. "Jim's big-time," says
Bryant, whose dad, Joe, played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the
team that hired Gray as a broadcaster when he graduated from
Colorado in 1981.

11:50 a.m. Nick Van Exel arrives in street clothes for a pregame
interview. "This O.K., Jim?" asks Van Exel.

"Put your jersey top on," Gray orders in a tone that Lakers
coach Del Harris might not dare use with his mercurial point

"Whatever you say," says Van Exel.

11:53 a.m. Excerpt from the second take of the Van Exel interview:

Van Exel: "Composure definitely the most important thing. We
gotta stay away from [Utah's] dirty tactics."

Gray: "Definitely firing a slavo there."

Producer: "Salvo?"

Gray: "Do a third take."

12:08 p.m. In the Lakers locker room Shaquille O'Neal tries to
saunter past Gray and avoid a pregame chat. "Hey!" barks Gray.
"Hey! Shaq, come here!"

"What do you want?" O'Neal pleads. "Am I focused? I'm focused. I
want to go to the next level so I can win that ring."

Magic Johnson enters. "Hey, when does your show start?" asks
Shaq. "I gonna be on the first night?"

12:17 p.m. Whenever Russell returns to the back of the layup
line, the dogged Gray, 38, is there to ask about his healing
powers. Russell is taciturn, but the man who has had the
temerity to go toe-to-toe with a rabid Mike Tyson in a postfight
interview will not back down. "You gonna stonewall this," says
Gray, "or you gonna talk to me?"

Russell shrugs. "Shooting line," he says.

1:31 p.m. Before tip-off Lakers guard Jon Barry approaches Gray
near midcourt. "We're going to kick their ass," says Barry.

2:39 p.m. With 1:13 left before halftime Russell, who has
injured his shoulder, heads to the locker room. Gray dashes from
his midcourt seat into the tunnel in pursuit. Alas, he is halted
by a security guard.

2:56 p.m. L.A. trails 61-35 at the half. Gray interviews Harris
as Johnson sits nearby. "Might you suit up this guy?" asks Gray
as the camera pans toward Johnson. Harris doesn't smile.

3:27 p.m. Referee Hugh Evans calls a flagrant foul on Van Exel.
The L.A. bench erupts. Evans's eyes meet those of Gray, who
affirms the call. "They always do that," says Gray. "We can look
at the monitor."

4:46 p.m. The second half is a snooze (L.A. loses 112-77), the
woman formerly in a coma is never found, and the interview with
Harris wasn't aired. "It's only Game 1," says Gray. "We'll have
better days."