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For Delta Center guards, work is a full-court press

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It's 4 p.m. Friday and the Mailman has been delivered.

Karl Malone is routinely the first Utah Jazz player to arrive at the Delta Center, and the day of Game Two of the 1998 NBA Fi-nals is no exception.Like the jaws of a great beast, the building's security doors thrust open and cast one of the NBA's biggest fishes into the cavernous belly of his professional home. His work day is about to begin.

Mark Powell has been on the job since morning, but the first seven hours of his day have been a warm-up. The 32-year-old manager of guest services and event security for the Delta Center is exceedingly calm for a man whose task is to control chaos.

As players, coaches, referees and reporters trickle in through the hidden backdoor, Powell assembles his team to orchestrate the security equivalent of a full-court press. He will oversee a staff of 50 unarmed gray-suited security guards and green-vested ushers, another 20 orange-jacketed temporary employees hired just for the Finals and 18 off-duty Salt Lake City police officers.

Three guards will be posted in each of the Delta Center's four corner entryways. Three will stay behind each team's bench. Four are assigned to escort each team on and off the floor and seven are required to help the three referees enter and escape. Two will watch the NBA commissioner's every move, and dozens will scan the stands to protect the fans, primarily from themselves.

Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman add three muscle-bound warriors to the mix. Jordan brings two personal bodyguards. Rodman has one.

"He's there basically to baby-sit him and make sure Dennis doesn't get into trouble," Powell says of Rodman's attendant. "They'll do anything they can to protect (the two stars), whereas we try to be much more customer friendly. We wouldn't manhandle our guests. We'd take a much softer approach.

"To be honest, I'd be happier if the players did not bring their own security people."

It is not a thought Powell can dwell on. NBA employee Tom Carelli tells him the two security employees guarding NBC's post-game announcers need to be "more proactive." Powell promises to station more of his people there.

On the court, NBC is rehearsing the AT&T $2 Million Shootout for the fifth - or is it the 15th? - time. It has to be perfect.

Powell knows the rest of the night will not be, but he can always hope.

Two nights before, about 60 fans were removed from the building because they unknowingly purchased stolen tickets. During the first game of the playoffs, Houston's Charles Barkley charged into the stands for a little chat with an allegedly abusive Jazz fan. When the Lakers were in town, a dozen fights broke out each night.

Those memories are fresh. And so is Clarence Montgomery.

The 59-year-old Woods Cross policeman serves as one of three security supervisors directly under Powell. Montgomery is a spry, quick-witted Tennessee native who is given credit for intervening when Barkley invaded the seats.

He spent five hours of his day shift on bicycle patrol. Now he is running up and down steps, darting past players and family members on the lower level, and weaving like a skilled point guard through fans who have begun streaming onto the main concourse.

"I'm all over the place," Montgomery grins. "Last game, I was beat when I left here. It's much more hectic in the playoffs."

Brent Allenbach, vice president of event security and Powell's boss, admits staging the NBA Finals is an enormous task, employing more than 1,000 part-time workers.

"This is about as big a production as we'll see until the Olympics," he says. "There's a lot of moving parts. If we can get through a night where we don't have any problems, we'll be very happy."

But even before the players are introduced, there is trouble. Montgomery stands still, for the first and last time, and presses his ear to his radio.

"Apparently, we have some counterfeiters," he frowns, then dashes upstairs to the central lobby.

Brandon and Chris Blodgett of Sandy are waiting for him. They purchased lower-bowl seats for $150 apiece - a real bargain of a price if the tickets were valid, but they are not.

Montgomery examines the tickets closely and smears the ink. That isn't suppose to happen. The coupon on the back, he discovers, expired last year.

"They are good copies, but there are some problems with them," Montgomery announces as two more fans show up with tickets for the same exact seats.

All are told they must leave.

"He seemed like he was in a big hurry to get out of here," Chris Blodgett, a 22-year-old BYU student, said of the heavyset scalper who sold him the bad ticket. "Man, this sucks."

Eric Hill said he had "a bad feeling about it" when he paid $350, apparently to the same guy, for another counterfeit. Montgomery escorts Hill and a friend to the exit, but they don't go quietly.

"You can't put us up in the media room?" Hill asks Montgomery desperately. "I understand it's my problem, but I think the Delta Center could do something."

Montgomery senses this is just the beginning. He fears the scam is widespread, that more counterfeit tickets will turn up and more out-of-luck fans will be sent home to watch the game on television.

"All these people are gonna hate my guts before the night's over," he predicts.

As the game begins, a line of victims forms outside the arena at the Salt Lake police mobile unit on 100 South. John and Sue Boice drove up from New Mexico to pay $750 total for two worthless tickets. Yoshi Shimada flew in from Japan just for Game Two and paid $800 for a bogus ducat.

John Boltz of Bountiful, a former police officer, got ripped off, too - apparently by the same duo, a thin man and another not so thin, that others are reporting. He wonders why police aren't conducting an undercover operation and blames the state for its lack of ticket-scalping regulation.

"If it's going to be legal, they need to monitor it," agrees Dan Mad-sen, another victim who flew in from Seattle.

Salt Lake Police Lt. Ken Pearce says officers are looking for two suspects but can't do much for the victims.

"If people buy tickets on the street, they're more or less on their own," he says. "My heart goes out to them."

As the first quarter ends, Powell estimates as many as 200 fans have been stung by the scheme, a number Jazz personnel later confirm. It's the first large-scale counterfeiting scam Delta Center officials and Salt Lake police say they've seen since the Grateful Dead concert three years ago.

But the show goes on. Ushers work hard to keep the floor entrances clear. There's a squabble in Section 109. Sunlight is streaming in from Portals "S" and "SS," blinding some lower-bowl fans momentarily. The first half ends with a few questionable calls by the officials, but the fans show restraint.

The AT&T Shootout goes off without a hitch. Maynard Trudeau, a 74-year-old Floridian, sinks one of five under-handed 3-point attempts to collect a cool $250,000.

The renegade scalpers haven't made quite that much before police apprehend them, but they did take in about $11,000 - that, according to 23-year-old Ryan Jones of Houston. Jones bought a fake lower-bowl ticket for $65 but later spotted the thin man and the big man outside McDonald's. He alerted police and returned to see the men arrested.

Only one, however, is booked into jail. Despite a list of 18 victims, police say only one can be identified as having sold the counterfeits. The victims, Lt. Pearce says, may or may not get their money back. That's up to the court system.

Through the second half, the game remains close. Fans are transfixed. Powell is relatively at ease. But the referees aren't making any friends.

Even the Jazz Dancers, all smiles during their timeout performances, scream at TV monitors beneath the stands as the crew's officiating becomes more critical to the Jazz.

As the game winds down, Powell worries for the officials' safety.

Everything will be fine, he says, if the Jazz win the game. But they won't.

In the final minutes, at least four fights occur in the stands, each pitting Jazz fans against Bulls supporters. Several Chicago fans are taken away.

As the referees depart, they are showered with debris and verbal jabs, but they are not attacked.

Larry Cruz is not so fortunate. Cruz, who has protected local fans and athletes for 15 years, is an imposing figure at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds. But two apparently intoxicated Bulls fans are not in-timi-dat-ed.

Cruz separated the two from a mob of Jazz fans as the game ended and was rushing them outside the building - for their own protection - when they turned on him. One jumped on his back, and they knocked him to the ground.

Jazz fans came to Cruz' rescue and chased the two men away. One tripped on the concrete steps outside the arena, and a Jazz fan punched him in the face repeatedly, according to several eyewitness accounts. An ambulance was called to treat him.

"They were just being really vulgar, saying bad things about the Mormons," says Cruz, who escaped without injury.

Back inside, upper-bowl ushers move in to stop two fans from removing an NBA Finals banner, much to the relief of NBA employee Peter Fink. The banners cost $150 each, and last year Delta Center fans made off with 15 of them, he said.

The arena clears rapidly as postgame interviews wrap up near the locker rooms. Malone is the last to speak. Before he is done, all of the Bulls and most of the Jazz players are gone. A jostling crowd of 35 reporters and cameramen follows Rodman out. A handful pursue Jordan. Adam Keefe walks away alone, an invisible man.

It is 11 p.m. now and the Mailman has left the building. A staff meeting has been canceled and Montgomery is relieved. Not only must he return at 5:30 a.m. for the sale of Garth Brooks tickets, but he has just learned he must work Saturday night's Utah Starzz game as well.

For the first time, Montgomery looks tired. He is routinely one of the last Delta Center employees to leave the building, but the second game of the 1998 NBA Finals will be an exception.