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The Lost Champions: The 2002 Sacramento Kings and the Fixed Western Conference Finals

Editor’s note: With the 2010 NBA playoffs in full swing, we felt it was time to tell this story. Eight years ago, the Sacramento Kings were robbed of an NBA championship in one of the most lopsided officiated series in sports history. The author will never be the same.

This is part 1 of a 3-part series.

Eight years ago, I lost my sports innocence. The little kid in my sports fan soul suffocated and died. He’s never coming back.

I saw basketball’s version of The Devil. It stared back at me, with its big doofy bald head and oversized XXXXL Lakers number 34 jersey. It barked in my face and shouted defiantly, almost as though it had actually, legitimately won something.

The Los Angeles Lakers were celebrating after their “victory” over the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

Only, they hadn’t really won.

There were no words to describe how the Kings felt after Game 7. (AP Photo)

The Kings had been robbed more blindly than a Bernie Madoff client.

And the worst part? There was no doubt that Sacramento was the better team. The Kings had gone 61-21 in the regular season, finishing three games ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific Division. They had earned home court throughout the playoffs, and had dominated the Lakers for long stretches of their seven-game war.

Chris Webber said before Game 7 that he felt like the Kings had already won five games in the series. They pretty much had.

They won Game 2 in easy fashion. They led Game 3 by as many as 27 points, cruising to a 13-point win.

They had a 24-point lead in Game 4, with a chance to take a 3-1 series lead, before giving it all back (with some help from the refs), as Robert Horry hit a game-winning, gut-busting three at the buzzer.

(Ed’s note: Right before Horry hit the shot, Kobe Bryant missed a potential game-tying jumper, and Shaquille O’Neal missed the putback layup from about three feet away. Kings center Vlade Divac, in probably the dumbest move of his career, tipped the ball back to the top of the key where a wide-open Horry had been standing, almost as if he was cued up to break the hearts of Kings fans. Thus, it goes without saying ….)

Horry’s three sent the author to the floor, where he laid motionless for approximately twenty minutes. ( Photo: Hector Amezuca/The Sacramento Bee)

I’ll never forget that three. I was at my cousin’s birthday party, watching as my beloved Kings imploded. I was irate when the referees inexplicably allowed a Samaki Walker half-court buzzer-beater to count at the end of the first half, even though NBC’s Marv Albert had already hit the snack bar by the time Walker released it.When Horry’s shot happened, I fell off the couch and collapsed to the floor. In front of everyone. Including  grandmas I didn’t know. (Ed’s note: Maybe that’s why they don’t like me.) I didn’t get up for a solid twenty minutes.

“It was the luckiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kings reserve Hedo Turkoglu said about Horry’s shot. “Vlade hit the ball and it went straight into his hands and he was wide open. The whole game, he was going for offensive boards, but at that moment he was waiting right there. You could never see this type of game in your life.”

“It was a blessed day for us,” said Shaquille O’Neal, whose missed layup gave birth to  Horry’s shot. “Thank God for Robert. Thank God his father met his mother, too.”

Despite what was then the most devastating loss in franchise history, (It’s hard to say whether or not Games 6 or 7 surpassed it), the Kings stormed back in championship fashion in Game 5.

Chris Webber came through with a virtuoso performance, scoring 29 points and ripping down 13 rebounds, in what would have been a critics-silencer had Sacramento gone on to win the series.

Bibby’s game-winner in Game 5 should have clinched the series for the Kings. (AP Photo)

And Mike Bibby refused to let them lose.

Bibby had 23 points, including the in-your-face game-winning shot off of a Chris Webber screen with 8.3 seconds left.

The Kings had righted the ship. All was going to be right with the world.

And then there was Game 6.

Game 6 changed everything. It really deserves its own article, maybe even its own book one day.

I really don’t even know how to describe the officiating in that game.

If it was simply ineptitude, it was so inept that it’s beyond comical. Think a professional NASCAR driver not being able to get the car into first gear. Or a barber accidentally shaving someone’s eyebrows off. I think a bunch of sixth graders who have never picked up a basketball before could have pulled off a better officiating performance.

There were six or seven egregious calls in the fourth quarter, all of them going against the Kings. Watch this Youtube video to see some of them. (I know…the beginning is long, but fast-forward to about 1:25.) And how’s this for a telling stat:

The Lakers averaged 22 free throws per game during the first five games of the series– then shot 27 alone in the fourth quarter of Game 6.

Allow some of these quotes to wash over you.

“Why don’t they (the refs) just let us know beforehand? We didn’t have a chance to win.”–Vlade Divac

“We didn’t have a chance tonight…I’m not gonna say what I really feel. I’ll get fined. I’ll keep my opinions to myself.”–Chris Webber

” If you care about basketball, Friday night’s Game 6 was a rip-off. The Kings and Lakers didn’t decide that this series would be extended until Sunday, the referees did.”-Michael Wilbon, in the Washington Post

“If there was ever a time for conspiracy theories to be given new life, it’s now. It’s difficult to ignore the Kings’ claim that NBC does not want them in the Finals. Because of [Game 6], many things will be said if the Kings fall. NBC will be a culprit, as will the NBA. Both will be accused of going Hollywood, which is hard to argue with right now.”–Steven A. Smith, in the Philadelphia Daily News

“Who do these players think they are? Do they actually think fans buy tickets to go and watch [them] play basketball at its best? Don’t they realize people flock to arenas to watch guys named Dick Bavetta, Bennett Salvatore, and Eddie F. Rush try to keep the big guys in line by enforcing their version of the basketball rulebook?”–Kevin Modesti, in the Los Angeles Daily News

And finally…Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, wrote this article after the series concluded. (Scroll down to the Question: What was the most disturbing subplot of the playoffs?)

Whatever happened that night in Los Angeles, it cost the Sacramento Kings the NBA championship. And it cost me my sports soul.

Editor’s Note: This is the end of Part 1 of a 3-part series.  Part 2  Part 3


25 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Lost Champions: The Story of the 2002 Sacramento Kings and the fixed Western Conference Finals « Northeast College Hoops

  2. Jon b.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Great article and you are 100% correct

  3. JB

    March 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Not fixed at all. You conveniently fail to mention Shaq took 1 free throw in game 5 and fouled out (on some of the worst calls in history) before he could even take a shot in the 4th quarter. Then in game 7 the Kings missed half their free throws and choked their chance at a title away.

    The best part is that the Kings are moving and this is the closest their crybaby fans will ever come to tasting victory. Poetic f****** justice.

    • mix

      March 31, 2011 at 8:10 am

      JB… haha your such a typical laker fan. let me guess your bald, m******, fat, a c****, and you know nothing about basketball.

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  5. JD

    March 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Sour grapes, dude. I agree one Pollard foul was unwarranted. But your team lost a chance to be a champion b/c of their poor play, e.g., see when they (admittedly) played scared in Game 7, on their home floor no less, and choked away their chance to win. The guy who was their leader (Webber) didn’t get that league-wide rep for being soft for nothing. This new Fab Five document also reinforces his choke rep.

    • Jon

      April 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

      Jd /Jb Game 7 ??? you mean the game the league made sure there was a game 7 ? and fixed game 6 for LA? IF the game was not ordered by 2 refs by David stern, then history would be different!! But you clowns believe whatever the league wants them to . You have no clue about basketball just a clown with a poster of Kobe on your bedroom wall .

  6. C-Crow

    May 26, 2011 at 5:22 am

    27 free-throws in the 4th quarter. Poor play? How can consistency happen when whistles are being blown so often??? Typical CHUMP lakers fan JD. So typical! Have fun with Mike Brown as your coach. Enjoy the lakers growing old very un-gracefully and without much class. I’m thinking…when that happens you’ll probably be on the Heat bandwagon. After all, isn’t that what laker fans do??? Jump, JD, jump!

  7. Pingback: The Lost Champions: The 2002 Sacramento Kings and the Fixed Western Conference Finals « ROUNDBALL DAILY

  8. tsarkiss

    December 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I remember reading this back when you first wrote it. I think EXACTLY like you, it’s funny. I was a 15 year-old girl at the time – and same exact reactions / feelings. You know.. we may never really love the NBA anymore – but I’m sure we’ll always love the Sacramento Kings of 2002. Win or lose, they were just amazing. I was in Los Angeles at the time of this game. People harrassed me when I said the game was rigged – but it was worth it. Thanks for this article again, and Kings ’02 <3

  9. wkdayton

    December 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks tsarkiss, I really appreciate it

  10. tayriley

    December 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    damn nothing’s been truer. game 6 does deserve it’s own fucking book.

  11. purp n yellow

    January 18, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    All i know is that i was 14 at the time…. i remember it was samaki walker who nailed a half court buzzer beater at the end of the first half to cut it to 65 45.(correct me if im wrong) At that moment i felt that the Lakers would comeback…. and low and behold like 2 time defending champs they did. When Horry hit that shot i went through the roof (in a good way). It was and still to this day my favorite moment in basketball.

    • Sam

      March 24, 2012 at 8:13 am

      Are you SERIOUS????? Look at the video, that very 3 pointer you point to as a “sign”, was in fact a blown call also. The buzzer hit 0:00 before the ball left his hands! So you’re exactly right, that shot was a sign of things to come- horrible officiating directly affecting the outcome of the series. YouTube “The Greatest TRagedy In Sports, Part 7″ and you’ll see it there. Sorry to stomp on your childhood memory, but you had to be informed. You had to.

      • carlos

        March 27, 2012 at 2:17 am

        the only positive thing that i saw from samaki’s 3pt ‘buzzer beater’ (along with reggie miller’s miraculous 3 ptr against the nets to send the game to OT in their eastern conf playoff game that year) was that those 2 shots were instrumental in the NBA putting the red lights on the edges of the backboard. So it would lessen the chance of occurences like that happening again.

        on another note of the terrible calls by the refs… why did they constantly allow shaq to cross the line during his FTs (which he took a lot of during the series) before the ball touched the rim? adelman should’ve totally been on that (im pretty sure phil wouldve whined his ass off if an opposing player did that crap during a free throw).

        cant believe its been 10 years!

  12. Pingback: You can play with the 2002 Sacramento Kings in NBA 2K12, for a price « ROUNDBALL DAILY

  13. Sharron Bowersox

    March 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    hey great there were six or seven egregious calls in the fourth quarter, all of them going against the Kings.http://www.VegasTopDogs.com

  14. Jason

    June 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I actually wrote an article on the rig job. Maybe they should listen the Ref Tim that people discredit. That Game 6 was Kobe, Shaq and the three Refs. That is a hard team to beat.

    Walker 3-pointer at buzzer was counted. 3 points is a lot at the end when you lose it. In my opinion, Kings will have a chance again. With elite teams playing poorly, this will show the NBA is unbiased. They have cleaned out the bad with more alert Refs.

    Even though I don’t like OKC because their rise to The Finals occurred with no hardship, I think this will prove the Kings have a chance to reach The Finals. A pathetic Sonics team goes to OKC. Then, they somehow make the finals with half of the talent of the 2001-2004 Kings.

    Maybe the teams of today are weak. I remember washing Kings dominant teams at home. There were setting all kind of records at ease. East Coast teams rarely won in Arco Arena.

    I remember a bad call in Game 3 of T-Wolves and Kings playoff series at Arco. Bibby got called for a technical in OT for throwing his headband. This technical resulted in T-Wolves winning by 1. Kings made an improbable comeback from 20 down in the last few minutes with Bibby and Peja leading the charge.

    Spurs are chokers. They are too old to hold leads and can’t get it done anymore. Dallas already won their title. They will fade away. Lakers got their karma payback with shipping off Odom.

    The basketball Gods dislike the Kings. In 2003, we lose Webber to a freak knee injury in a blowout loss. We still took Mavs 7 games.

    That night in Game 6 cost Kings a dynasty. If they won the 2002 NBA Title, they would have won 2 more. In my opinion, Game 6 was a rig job. It is obvious to toy with the points to force a Game 7. If Walker’s 3-pointer wasn’t counted or Shaq was fouled at the end of Game 4, then Kings could have won that game to end the series in Game 5.

    The NBA never wanted to the Kings to succeed. They are far better than what we see now with teams giving up (Spurs and Lakers 2012). If Heat lose tomorrow, you can add them to the list.

    It’s unfortunate that Kings got robbed in 2002. Maybe OKC making the finals will motivate the Maloofs to make changes, enabling the Kings to reach contention again. All the Kings need is 3-4 good years to reach the finals. Nothing is impossible. OKC went from worst to the best in the West.

    Spurs are old. Lakers have no heart. Dallas is content with their title. Suns are done. Maybe OKC will get schooled in The Finals. Boston has a team full of veterans who’ve been in The Finals twice.

    Go Kings! Follow the Giants lead. 10 years after the rig job, Kings have a chance to reach The Finals. OKC is proof that the NBA has cleaned up their act to let the better team win.

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  19. Josh

    June 28, 2013 at 2:32 am

    This does not Explain game 5 when shaq fouled out on a phatom call and kobe had 5 fouls. Maybe game 6 was in favor of the lakers but game 5 was just as bad the other way. Just sounds like your bitter and overlooking the facts

  20. Thekingssuckansodoyou

    September 10, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Yeah I have a similar but more enjoyable story to yours. I was 10 and I watched it at my grandmas that evening I celebrated like you could only dream I jumped up and down and acted a fool. Sucks for you but being a queens fan you are probably used to defeat huh? It was a great night for me and a sad night for you hahaha now all you can do is cry on blogs and pretend the queens are the real champs lol keep dreaming tho seems all queens fans deserve ur lil dreams I’ll be wearing my 2002 lakers championship tshirt today in ur honor

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