Did an NBA referee introduce Michael Jordan to Karla Knafel, the ex-lover he is suing for extortion? In a countersuit filed by Knafel she says she was working as a singer in an Indianapolis hotel in 1989 when Eddie F. Rush, then a rookie NBA ref, started a conversation. This led to the subject of Jordan, who was in town with the Bulls to play the Pacers. "Mr. Rush told Karla that he personally knew Jordan," her suit says. "To prove it, he telephoned Jordan at Jordan's Indianapolis hotel room and introduced him to Karla over the phone. Karla and Jordan then chatted for a while." The NBA refused to make Rush available to SI for comment but said it is investigating the allegation of fraternization. "It's something we discourage, for obvious reasons," says NBA spokesman Tim Frank.
?Here's a relationship that has legs: the Red Sox' far-ranging shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and striking U.S. soccer star Mia Hamm are engaged. Sometime over the Thanksgiving holiday Garciaparra proposed on bended knee (in case Hamm took a bad hop, perhaps), thus confirming speculation that began in October when a Boston jeweler reported that Garciaparra, 29, had been checking out a five-carat rock worth more than $50,000. The pair first met four years ago when Hamm, now 30, schooled Garciaparra in a celebrity penalty-kick shootout at Harvard. They've been inseparable ever since Hamm divorced Marine helicopter pilot Christiaan Corry last fall.
? Picasso famously thrilled restaurateurs by dashing off drawings on napkins and tablecloths, and now another revolutionary artist has adopted the practice. Muhammad Ali was in Manhattan last Friday to promote Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, a one-shot magazine celebrating his career. After posing for photos and signing autographs at a press conference at Gallagher's Steak House, the champ sat down and put his Sharpie to more creative use. With a few quick strokes and jabs of the pen, he produced a cartoon on the tablecloth depicting two stick-figure fighters in a ring surrounded by spectators. He labeled one of the fighters FRAZIER, the other (bigger) one ALI, then signed the work with a flourish. Don't look for the picture on Gallagher's wall, though. It was immediately claimed by a guy who knows something about the art of self-defense: Larry Holmes, on hand to support his old foe. "He didn't draw us," said Holmes. "That's because I beat him."
?Figure skater Scott Hamilton, who five years ago was diagnosed with testicular cancer, has joined with the Cleveland Clinic, where he received treatment, to launch a website (Chemocare.com). The site provides information for patients who've recently learned they have cancer.
?Shoppers on eBay last week could have picked up Madonna's high school yearbook, a Joe Paterno tie—and the Dartmouth men's and women's swim teams. EBay item #197609200 was described as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a piece of NCAA Division I history" and sought a bid of $211,000, roughly the teams' annual budget. A bid of $212,099.99 was briefly posted before eBay pulled the team off the site upon learning it was not being offered by its owner. The team had been put up for auction by the boyfriend of sophomore swimmer Jenny Kenkel in support of Dartmouth's 53 swim team members, whose program was recently cut for budgetary reasons. "We wanted to raise our own endowment," said freshman swimmer Cary Telander. Dartmouth dean James Larimore said the alternative fund-raising was not in line with school policy.