Hate to be a sore loser and all, but how exactly does Sacramento get away with poisoning Laker star Kobe Bryant?

Late Sunday night — before the second game of the Lakers-Kings series in the Western Conference finals — Bryant ordered up a room-service meal of a bacon cheeseburger and a slice of cheesecake. And then he got violently ill. And then he spent a good chunk of Monday getting three liters of intravenous fluid pumped into his body to fight the dehydration from food poisoning ... instead of practicing with the team.

Sound like intentional poisoning? Let's ask Laker trainer Gary Vitti:

Bryant telephoned Laker trainer Gary Vitti from his hotel room at 4:30 Monday morning, having vomited for most of the night...

Vitti rushed to Bryant's room.

'He was doubled over like a shrimp,' Vitti said.

Vitti administered medication and Bryant slept most of the morning, until the team returned from the shoot-around. Bryant awoke just before noon and took further treatment.

Vitti said he ruled out a virus because Bryant lacked the symptoms, typically a fever and muscle aches. Phil Jackson and Vitti both downplayed the possibility that Bryant, who scored 30 points in Game 1, was intentionally poisoned.

'I don't believe in that kind of stuff,' Vitti said. 'I spoke to some of the people at the hotel and they served 1,200 room-service meals and there wasn't any other cases. Sometimes, these things happen.'

And he's right. One way to prove someone wasn't accidentally poisoned is to point to the 1,199 other meals served by the hotel's room service that didn't cause food poisoning.

Guess what happens when a hotel restaurant or kitchen serves tainted food? Lots and lots of diners get sick. If the hotel kitchen — or a kitchen employee — is dirty, the bugs don't just go to a single cheeseburger which just happened to be delivered to the Laker with a 26.6-point average in the 2002 playoffs.

(For those who don't follow this stuff, Kobe is the Lakers' high scorer in the post-season: he's 3.5 points above Shaq, and scored more than triple that of the third highest scorer, Derek Fisher. He's the sixth top scorer in the NBA this year, with a 25.2 average. He's a guy who scored 56 in a single Jan. 12 game. Shaq was out so Kobe just did the job for both of them.)

If Vitti was talking about plain old innocent food poisoning, I'd have to agree with him: nobody else eating that hotel food reported getting sick. But he wasn't; Vitti was brushing off press questions about Kobe being intentionally poisoned.

The Sacto thugs' big idea was to keep him off the court. Losing Kobe Bryant for a game is an easy way to give Los Angeles a double-digit deficit. As it turned out, the poisoning only shaved a few points off Bryant's playoff average. But anybody watching that game saw the guy miss a dozen-plus shots he tends to make with ease.

He still started with the Lakers last night and managed 22 points, but he had to drag his poisoned corpse out there.

Do I actually believe the Sacto Kings NBA franchise had something to do with this? Of course not. Pro basketball is a giant multi-billion-dollar business with officials and rules and private detectives and whole armies of lawyers.

Do I believe some fanatic cowbell ringer slipped into the hotel and paid off the guy serving meals at midnight on a Sunday?

Yes. It would be right in character for one of those trailer-trash cow-tippers to pay off the night-shift room-service guy to drop a little E. coli on the cheeseburger.

Just watch a game from Sacramento's horrific Arco Arena.

You will never see a crowd of such drooling maniacs. It is not difficult to imagine one of those maniacal hillbillies risking a few decades in prison to poison a terrifically talented young ball player from the hated and important metropolis of Los Angeles.

Not that it matters. The Cow-Pals get to come down to L.A. next. And the fanatics will have a tough time poisoning Kobe at his own house.

"Next time I want a cheeseburger, I'll just go to McDonald's," Bryant told the press after the game. He's got class, so he was smiling.

But I've got a better idea, Kobe. You call me or one of the other five million Lakers fans, and one of us will bring you a nice In-N-Out burger made locally by your fellow smart and handsome citizens. Saddam Hussein might need expendable food tasters in his hometown, but you don't have to worry about that in Los Angeles.

The series is tied 1-1 and Sacramento has slopped away the home-court advantage they fought all season to win. Now they get to visit Staples Center ... where they've consistently lost for two years. And the Lakers? They've lost just three of the past 27 playoff games.

PS — Those refs were idiots. Maybe they got the other three poisoned cheeseburgers.

Ken Layne types from a shack behind his Los Angeles home. The author of trashy thrillers such as Dot.Con and the upcoming Space Critters, he has written and edited for a variety of news outfits including Information Week, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, UPI and Mother Jones. Since the Enron-like collapse of his Web paper, Tabloid.net, in 1999, he has been posting commentary to KenLayne.com.

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