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

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

THE AFTERMATH

When it was over, I could barely move. I just sat on the couch, slack-jawed, staring at the television. I had just been through the most heartbreaking series of my fanatical sports life. After seven games, two sweat-drenched jerseys, three or four smashed television remotes, a destroyed living room, and the cold-blooded murder of my sports innocence, I was spent.

I threw off my black, road C-Webb jersey, spiked my Kings hat onto the floor, and knocked over a few things as I stormed outside.

I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe they had lost.

Vlade Divac reacts after the Kings’ heartbreaking Game 7 loss. (Photo courtesy: ESPN/Getty Images)

When your team is in the middle of a series like that one, you try not to think about losing. You’re getting screwed out of call after call, but your guys are still fighting. Still making shots. Improbably sticking it to the man even when many championship teams would have folded.

You try to think about how your team can pull it out. You try to think about what that championship t-shirt would feel like if you ever actually got the chance to put it on. This one wouldn’t have felt like cotton. It would have felt like cashmere. It would have felt like revenge. (Revenge, I think, feels like cashmere.)

I never allowed myself to consider what losing would feel like. After Games 4 and 6, losing wasn’t possible. The universe couldn’t allow them to lose. It had to be on my side. After all, it was almost impossible to argue– the Kings were the better team.

They were three games better in the regular season. They had dominated for long stretches of the series. They led Game 4 by 24 points before a referee-aided meltdown. They would have won Game 6 if any other group of basketball referees this side of Mongolia had been officiating. Even the Lakers acknowledged that the Kings probably should have won the series.

Just look at some of these postgame quotes:

“The Kings were the better team and they deserved to win. But somehow we did.”–Phil Jackson.

“They humbled us in a lot of ways,”–Rick Fox, insufferable Lakers pretty boy forward

“The Kings were playing better basketball than us,”– Kobe Bryant

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

Yet somehow, for some cosmically cruel reason, they weren’t going to the Finals. They were going home.

I felt like someone had hit me in the balls with a 3-wood, stolen my grandma’s car and ran over my dog.

I remember watching Shaquille O’Neal and his invisible, Dick Bavetta-created forcefield mouthing off, “Sacramento thought it was their year. But it wasn’t.”

I wanted to jump through the T.V. and punch him in the jujunum.

This photo never should have happened. (Michael Conroy/AP)

The thing is, it was our year. We didn’t lose. We had the championship stolen.

I took a walk outside, looking up at the stars and trying to think about how insignificant the whole thing was. (Editor’s Note: I also did this after the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. In other news, I take sports way too seriously.)

But it wasn’t insignificant. This team was different.

These Kings were brilliant. They passed and cut like Princeton on steroids. (Legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril was an assistant.) They ran the fast-break like the Showtime Lakers. They were the most unselfish NBA team I’ve ever seen.

The Kings led the league in scoring, throwing behind the back passes, and buying into a coach’s system. Sports Illustrated even put them on the cover a year earlier, proclaiming, “The Sacramento Kings: Basketball the Way It Oughta Be.”

Best of all, they were doing it all for a team that had been one of the league’s signature doormats for much of its history.

These were the new Kings. They were the coolest team in basketball. They had become my favorite team.

Like most sports fans my age, I grew up on the Chicago Bulls. I couldn’t help it. Michael Jordan meant more to my childhood than any person who doesn’t share my blood. He was my idol, my own personal demigod years before I even knew what the word meant. (All right, I just looked it up online, but let’s focus here.)

When His Airness retired (the second time), I found myself, like many young fans, without a team to root for. I was in a basketball no-man’s land.

I couldn’t go back to the Bulls; management had basically forced Jordan out.

So I tried the Knicks, my dad’s old favorite team. Too much Sprewell. I tried Barkley and the Rockets. Too many old guys. I even tried the Pacers before I realized Reggie Miller was the least cool superstar since Stockton. And then, all of a sudden, there they were.

Cue the Barry Manilow music.

Divac, Webber, and the Kings were fun to watch. (AP Photo)

They had everything I wanted in a team. Cool jerseys. A great playing style. An underdog feel. Chris Webber was my new hero. And Vlade Divac captured my imagination more than I ever dreamed a 7-foot foreign white guy could.

The 1998-99 Kings went 27-23 in the lockout-shortened season, and posted their first winning season in my lifetime. They got a 6-seed in the playoffs, and took the eventual Western Conference champion Utah Jazz to a fifth and deciding game in the first round.

They took the eventual Western Conference champ Lakers to five games the next year, as an 8-seed. In 2001, they reached the second round before being swept by L.A. They had earned my loyalty, and had gone from a perennial doormat to a pretty good team.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the Kings went from good to great.

C-Webb became a bona-fide superstar and transformed into quite possibly the best-passing power forward in NBA history. Predrag Stojakovic became ‘Peja’, and started knocking down threes like he was the Yugoslavian Larry Bird. Bobby Jackson turned into a mini-“Microwave” off the bench, and Vlade Divac became the old, wily veteran, almost like your favorite uncle who always knew just the right tricks to beat you in a video game.

They traded away fan-favorite (and ballhog) Jason “White Chocolate” Williams for Mike Bibby, who was a tough-as-a-meat-grinder little point guard who wasn’t afraid of anybody. All of a sudden, the Kings were built to win a championship right away.

They dominated the 2002 regular season, finishing with the league’s best record by three full games. They dispatched those old, annoying, short-shorts wearing Utah Jazz, 3-1, in the first round of the playoffs. Then they pounded the Dallas Mavericks, 4-1, in a series that pitted the two most exciting teams in the NBA.

Los Angeles was the only thing standing between the Kings and an NBA championship. The New Jersey Nets were the class of the Eastern Conference, but won only 52 games in the regular season and would have been a 5-seed had they played in the West. They would be swept in the Finals. They weren’t going to beat Sacramento.

This was the most pivotal series of my young NBA fanhood. Why? Because as much as I loved the Kings, I may have hated the Lakers even more. They had won two straight championships. They had beaten Larry Bird, my other basketball idol, and the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals. I hated Shaq. I hated Kobe. I despised Rick Fox. There was absolutely nothing about the Lakers I could stomach.

The Kings lost Game 1 because they were overwhelmed by the situation. I’m absolutely positive of this. But after that, they had been the best team in that series. Yet, because of guys like Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney, they would never get the chance to prove that.

It takes time to get over things like that, and there wasn’t a moment during the entire 2003 season that I didn’t think about it. I remember watching the first preseason game between the two teams, thrilled that the Kings had beaten the Lakers, 93-88, and that Doug Christie had brawled with Rick Fox in the tunnel after both had already been ejected for fighting.

The Kings won the Pacific Division for the second straight year, going 59-23, and earning a 3-seed in the Western Conference. Once again, they bounced Utah from the playoffs in the first round, and matched up with the 60-22 Mavs in round 2.

Sacramento won Game 1, but lost Chris Webber to an ACL tear in Game 2. They would never be the same. The Kings lost the series in seven.

Sacramento would fight valiantly the next year, winning 55 games and finishing one game behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division. But they weren’t quite the same. Webber was a step slower, less explosive, and not the same offensive threat. Bibby had lost the killer instinct he had in 2002, and he has yet to get it back. Divac wasn’t the old, wily uncle anymore, he was just old. The Kings did get a measure of revenge on the Mavs, ousting them 4-1 in Round 1, but then fell to Kevin Garnett and the top-seeded Timberwolves in Round 2.

Webber will never be able to shake his legacy as a big-game loser, thanks to the officials in Game 6. (AP Photo/ Susan Ragan)

In a fitting bookend to his star-crossed career, Webber missed a potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer. That would be the final shot the Kings would take as contenders.

It didn’t have to be this way.

It could have all changed in Game 6. NBA title on the line. Webber’s legacy and possibly his Hall of Fame candidacy on the line. And Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt decided the outcome.

Webber will be remembered as the most ill-fated/unlucky athlete of his generation, instead of one of the best basketball players of his generation.

The 2002 Sacramento Kings will be remembered as the team that came up just short.

And young Kels Dayton, of Thomaston, Connecticut, will remember the night he lost faith in the NBA.

I’m still not sure which is the biggest crime.

64 Comments

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  3. Matt

    May 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I could have written that article. That’s not to be taken as an insult, but as a teenager who was born and raised as a King’s fan, my sports innocence was also maliciously taken from me by Dick Bavetta. Everything I remember about that series was cogently summed up in this piece, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to recover or watch an NBA game with the same passion I once had.

    • wkdayton

      May 30, 2010 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks Matt. I agree, I still can’t watch it the same way. Every time there’s a big game I’m always dubious about the refs, and that sucks. It really shouldn’t be that way. Basketball is my favorite sport, and the last thing fans should have to worry about is whether or not the refs are crooked. But apparently David Stern doesn’t care about guys like us. People still hail him as a great commissioner. It’s ridiculous.

    • bronson Grubbs

      March 10, 2011 at 8:02 am

      same dude. i was just 7 and one of the biggest kings fans and my heart was torn. when they lost. i pretty much broke everything in my room. i get a knot in my stomach everytime i think about it. the nba is so rigged. its always a big market team that wins. and now its a damn shame the kings are moving.

  4. Dan

    May 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Great article. I too watched this game in disbelief, and I’m glad people are still talking about it. That 2002 team should be ranked as one of the greatest of all time.

    • wkdayton

      May 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm

      Thanks alot Dan. I’m still hoping that more news comes out about Donaghy. I just hope that we can all one day agree that the 2002 championship wasn’t fairly contested. I think Webber’s legacy, as well as Rick Adelman’s, would be completely different had the Kings been given a chance in that game. I think the record should reflect that, especially if anyone can corroborate Donaghy’s claims.

      • REAL 2002 NBA CHAMPIONS

        May 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm

        FUCKKK YOUR SPORTS INOCENTS AND FUCKK ALL Y’ALL BITCHHH ASSS KINGS FANS THATS WAS SOME AMAZING OFFIATING THEY GOT EVERY CALL RIGHT ESPECIALLY IN GAME 6 NO BLOWS CALLS IN THAT GAME I TIP MY HATS TO THE REWS THE KINGS WERE PLAYING DIRTY AND THE REF MADE SURE THEY DID NOT GET AWAY WITH IT AND THE NETS WOULD OF SWEEP THE KINGD GO LAKERS!!!! THE TRU 2002 WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS AND TRU 2002 NBA CHAMPIONS

  5. Kitecurse

    July 10, 2010 at 9:58 am

    this was a great article. I still get angry thinking about that series. I couldn’t believe my eyes because the kings of 2002/2003 were so much fun to watch because it was basketball how it should’ve been played but they weren’t headliners that stuck out because they played together and there wasn’t a SUPER key figurehead player like Kobe or Shaq on the team.

    SOOOOOO ANGRY!!!!!

    • wkdayton

      July 17, 2010 at 3:07 am

      Thanks kitecurse. I agree, that was one of the great things about that team. They could have revolutionized basketball by changing the formula on how you can win a championship. It could have led to –gasp– actual team basketball in the NBA.

      I thought the 2006 Mavs could have done the same thing; no completely dominant player (although Dirk was close.) Unfortunately, in large part due to the refs in that series as well, the star studded teams prevailed. Maybe that’s why LeBron and Bosh ended up signing with the Heat.

  6. Sliced Bread

    July 16, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I feel the same way man. You nailed it right on the head. This series cost not only the Kings the NBA championship, but Webber his nod into the Hall of Fame. Just like you man, I grew up a Bulls fan and found it hard to find a team after he retired. Webbers Kings are my favourite team of all time. It’s a damn shame what happened. A real damn shame. I especially feel bad for Webber as his legacy takes the biggest hit. He would have been a sure-fire Hall of Famer had they won that championship. Instead, Shaq and Kobes legacy grew even more… damn shame. I too cannot stand Kobe. That year they gave him one extra ring. Now he’s a ring closer to Jordan (which he’ll never be). Man, this is a great article. I really hope they get to the bottom of this and find those who cheated the Kings go down.

    • wkdayton

      July 17, 2010 at 2:51 am

      Hey I couldn’t have said it better. And you know if Kobe wins another one, people will say he’s Jordan. Which should be considered sacrilegious by anyone who knows anything about basketball. Thanks alot man.

  7. Holey-Moley

    July 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Great article! The Kings are truly the lost champions. My heart goes out to that team. They were royally screwed. You know the funny thing is Donaghy didn’t even ref the infamous game 6 too? That means the other refs who refereed game 6 were in on it. Because if they found Donaghy guilty, and he didn’t even ref game 6, THE OTHER REFS WERE IN ON IT TOO. The NBA is rigged!!!!!!!!!!!!! They only care about big market teams doing well. Even Larry Bird has went on record saying that David Stern is corrupt!

  8. Jon b.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Great article , i felt the way as described in your article and was brilliantly written . You hit the nail on the head about everything . I thank you for doing this peace and i want to spread this article out more but i think alot more people need to see it .

    • wkdayton

      October 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks alot Jon. I agree, I’m hoping a lot more people will see it haha. I think it is a shame that only diehard Kings fans and people within the NBA will continue remember this every time someone mentions the Lakers winning 3 straight championships. I really do think there needs to be an investigation, especially after the Donaghy revelations.

    • Qiqi

      January 15, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Tim,You’re talking about stgtreay and why. The boxscore doesn’t deal with stgtreay or why beyond assigning a standard position. It just describes what you did. In your case (if the Bulls have more efficient scoring options) the Bulls are likely employing poor stgtreay with Rose and Brewer. How you are used certainly impacts your wp48 i.e. Josh Smith should not be your three point shooter. The question of whether or not Rose’s true’ wp48 value is better that what he’s showing this year (0.200 at 23 is quite good though) depends upon whether you believe his use makes him significantly worse than otherwise.You have noted that there are drawbacks to being the designated scorer but do they outweigh the benefits? If you are the focus of the defense shouldn’t your wp48 (boxscore) benefit from the additional assists? If your teammates are trying to get you open shots and trying to get you the shots that you are best at shouldn’t this alleviate some (or all) of the negative scoring efficiency effects due to defensive scrutiny? Are the unplanned end of shot clock attempts for a given player so far above the typical number of attempts for his position that they make any significant difference?I don’t have the answers to these questions in general, so unless I do have the answers for a specific case I just assume everything’s a wash or a minor effect and assume that the (full season) boxscore is a good first approximation of value.

  9. NFLranking

    October 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Great article! I’ve gone through all the tape and did my best to show the disparity in calls throughout that series on youtube. Here are some mind boggling stats regarding that series.

    -Vlade Divac averaged only 1 foul per 12 minutes during the regular season. Against Shaq he averaged 1 foul per 6 minutes and didn’t hack a shack ONCE!

    -The Kings shot 2-3 more FT’s per game than their opponents during the regular season due to their potent offense and ‘soft’ defense. During 27/29 quarters of the 2002 WCF, the Kings averaged 1.5 more FT attempts than the Lakers. HOWEVER in the 2 most pivotal quarters (4th quarters of games 4 and 6) the Lakers averaged a MIND BLOWING 12.5 more FT’s than the Kings.

    • wkdayton

      October 13, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      Thanks alot NFLranking. I really enjoyed your series on Youtube, although it made me want to throw my computer across the room on several occasions. Thanks for making that video; I think more people should know about what happened in that series, and just how much the Kings were robbed.

  10. asmanuel

    December 14, 2010 at 6:40 am

    The greatest article that I’ve read about this controversial playoff games. I was really sad about what happened to the KINGS. Stern should be fried in HELL, I lost my two months salary for betting on the KINGS to win the series!! David Stern and the 3 devils interfere with history and altered it by making the LA 3peat champs. The NBA is fixed. That is why I pity the Kings for playing their hearts out. The fact is plain and simple THEY WERE ROBBED BY STERN!!

  11. Haris Ashraf

    February 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    may god increase you for writing this. my love for the nba will never be the same.

  12. Binesean

    February 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    The most depressing year of my life. I haven’t been able to be an NBA fan since.

  13. Blippity Bloop

    March 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Funny how this article conveniently leaves out the number of flops Vlade got away with in this series. Were there more or less than 30?

    The Kings were absolutely screwed in Game 6, and Kings fans have a right to be upset. The Lakers also had to contend with questionable whistles in Game 2 & Game 3. It does not even out, though it isn’t as one-sided as this author makes it out to be. If the Kings deserved to win this series, they would have won the series.

    There’s a lot of conjecture but very little substance when discussing other officiating woes from this series. “The Lost Champions” is also misleading and arrogant. The Kings wouldn have been guaranteed an NBA Championship as much as the Lakers were guaranteed the 2004 NBA Championship.

    This author has done a good job of re-entering that vein of the damaged Sacramento sports psyche, but does not pass the test of numbers and facts and actual journalism.

    Listening to Sacramento sports radio while driving from the Bay Area back to LA the morning after Game 7 was one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable sports experiences in my lifetime.

    Go Lake Show,
    Blippity Bloop

    • Danny Jacobs

      April 18, 2011 at 4:13 am

      who actually relishes beating a small-market team that gets a chance to win a championship once in multiple generations?

      seriously, kill yourself

  14. Bobby Jackson

    April 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    As a Chicago Bulls fan of the early to mid 90′s I know my team has been on the side of some favorable calls through out that dynasty (ie, The Jordan Push off). Shoot even DRose ending up in Chicago.

    That being said anyone with an objective brain can see that something was fishy that night (Game 6). In addition, anyone can see that David Stern and the Lakers are two pees in a pod. Funny what will happen when the Bryant and the Lakers are to old to compete anymore.

  15. Bobby Jackson

    April 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    By the way if you were depressed about this game for over a year you really need to get a life. What is wrong with you its just a game.

  16. Samantha

    April 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I needed to read this… its been nine years with this torment stuck in my body. I come from the lovely state of Washington [former home of the Seattle Super Sonics]. I, too grew up in love with the Chicago Bulls and was also a big Miami Heat fan. I’d follow the Sonics, they were the home team and I always did them right… but as I grew older I didn’t feel like I had an actual team until I came across the Sacramento Kings and got the joy of watching them grow several years into the team they were in these 2002 playoffs. I was obsessed, involved, and in love. I remember this series like it was yesterday… I cried. I actually cried. And then a few years past… I didn’t have my Kings anymore [all my guys were gone... and I was lost]. I stopped watching NBA games [at least I had college hoops and March Madness to fill the void, and of course my own games but this is from a fan point-of-view]. It was horrible… But I had the home team, the not very good but room for improvement home team. And then the Sonics left Seattle [F*ck you Seattlites.. where were you at the games?] I lived two and a half hours away and couldn’t make it to games all the time. There is my excuse. So here I am, lost… Kings gone… Seattle losing its NBA team and I hadn’t been even watching the game for who know how long.
    A crap shoot. i decided a couple years back to follow the Blazers, might as well… and I fell in love again. I felt lifted and happy. I had a team again and I love them [who knows if i'll ever love them more than my kings team... oh hey! Gerald Wallace... a Blazer now. Yeah we had him when he was a young gun but I still think that is a big sign that it was meant to be, the Blazers and me].

    OK! I’m rambling, but what I really want to say… is THANK YOU. I’m so happy that I read this. I’ve had the Kings heartbreak trapped in me and even though it will still haunt me and bring up the sadness I feel when I think about them — I miss them. It was a hell of a run… the weight has lifted after nine years and I am free. I still hate the Lakers… I always want my ex-king players to do well [Blazers vs Dallas... when Peja goes in, I never want him to miss.] But I am free.
    And yes its just a game, but I love this game.

  17. Francis

    May 3, 2011 at 6:58 am

    I was a Lakers fan from when I saw my first game (Lakers getting owned by Malone/Stockton and the Jazz) up till Shaq left for miami. At the time of the the 3rd championship, I was to young to look into this. I just thought that Lakers squad was greatest from the 3-peat. Now, I get a chance to review the game over, and that was some horrible shit. No longer a Lakers fan (just a Kobe fan), but it’s obvious calls are made to build superstars to cash in on.

  18. James

    May 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for writing this– I also lost my ardor for sports after this travesty. Not just the NBA, ALL sports. And, crazy as this sounds, I think the whole thing kind of made me jaded towards life as a whole. I just sort of assume that people are probably dishonest now, and I think one rarely gets the credit due for his or her hard work.

  19. ben dover

    December 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

    i fully respect you as a Kings (sports) fan but i can’t say i agree with everything you said. here’s a great article for you to read, if you haven’t already,

    http://82games.com/lakerskingsgame6.htm

    • shiggy66

      December 30, 2011 at 7:18 am

      I have read the 82games.com page on the Game 6 of the Lakers/Kings series before. It’s done by Roland Beech who admits he knows relatively little about basketball yet makes determinations on the calls in that game. When weighed against the overwhelming majority of NBA players, coaches, writers, and knowledgeable fans, Rolands “Analysis” carries very little weight other than for Lakers fans or apologists for the sham that the NBA is. 5 baskets and 27 freethrows by the Lakers in the 4th quarter would seal it for someone who didn’t even see the game but anyone who saw it recognized it for what it was; officiating so horrendous that it could be nothing other than a fix. Listening to people diagnose it as anything other than that, as Roland Beech did, is the only comedy in the entire situation. I don’t like either team but my days as an NBA fan ended that day, much like my days as a pro wrestling fan ended when I was in 7th grade and realized it was all just a sham. Since then, I see anyone who pays to go to an NBA game as a sucker; fools and their money are easily parted.

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  21. Sam

    March 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. As a Sacramentan I can tell you that you experienced the same emotions in your living room that we as a city did. It was very quiet that night after the game, everywhere I was at least. We were deflated. Could not understand. Ironically the night of Game 7 was my last in my hometown, as I left for San Diego to go to college. What a strange cocktail of heartbreak and angst; to leave your hometown and lose your faith in the hometown sport all within the same moments. I hope with your article and others like it no one will forget and new fans will learn just how fake this “sport” truly is. Only problem is the pre-determined outcomes are not known to the coaches, announcers, staff or players; just the Vince McMahon of the NBA himself, David Stern. If the FBI investigates stereroids in the MLB, how can they not touch this?

  22. Jason

    June 7, 2012 at 12:57 am

    It took a long time to get over 2002. Instead of losing it from a bad coaching move (Dusty Baker), the Kings had to battle adversity to defeat their nemesis. This is the team that defeated them twice (2000-2001).

    Even though the Game 6 fix occurred, the Kings were always the better team. You have to admit that Game 7 was wild. Imagine washing the two teams get ready for OT. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I got to watch the Kings play on Christmas against Dallas the following year with my dad and two brothers.

    The Kings bring back great memories. I checked the Kings out when they lost to the Nuggets on a buzzer beater. Then, again on a December game when Lakers and Kings went into 2OT. Arco Arena used to be a scary place for opponents to play. It is located out in boonies.

    The 2002 Kings are champs. You don’t need a trophy and a banner to prove greatness. The best don’t always win, but they will always be remembered in the end.

    I talked to a Lakers fan who has season tickets to all the games. I moved out to Southern California for about 7 years. He said the electricity there was insane. Everybody in the front row stood up in Game 4 to watch the closing seconds.

    We have to remember the fun moments. Watch old Kings games and clips. Jason Williams throwing those wild passes. Kings looked awesome without Webber in 2004. Then, Webber helped Kings dispatch Dallas.

    2002 is a special year. Kings up 102-100 in OT. Wow! Were so close. Peja goes for a 3.. ..he air balls it. Bobby Jackson should have been playing in OT. Bobby J proved to be the difference in sitting out the 2004 playoffs. We can go back only in memory.

    There is nothing we can do to change the outcome. That series changed basketball. Tonight, OKC gave Kings fans hope that no previous champions could reach from the West. They reached with ease, unlike the Kings who had to deal with the Lakers every year. It only takes 4 years to win a title. The 1998 Kings proved this, if they in fact won 2002. OKC is now in the 2012 Finals.

    When Bonds and the Giants gave away the WS in 2002, the Kings defeats hurt even more. In 2010, the Giants won the World Series. Traditionally speaking, the Kings have a good shot at reaching a title. After the Arena deal, the Kings will become competitive again. The MLB Giants took 8 years to fix their WS meltdown.

    Ten years ago, Kings could have won a title. Poor officiating (Game 6), counting a 3-pointer (Game 4) after the buzzer, and bad bounces (Vlade to Horry) changed the outcome. It is exciting to think our Kings could have won a title. People laughed at us. We were in reach of the title hardware. I guarantee everyone that Kings would have pounded on the Nets. They owned the best record against the East at home. They were an awesome road team too.

    Good things will come to those who are loyal. Kings can get back on a 6-year plan soon to contend again. The old teams will fade way with a new and improved NBA giving the better teams a shot to win. Even though I don’t like OKC, they opened a door for the future Kings to reach The Finals. You may not see it now, but the Kings are closer than you think.

    • wkdayton

      June 17, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Amen Jason, I agree OKC and Dallas last year have shown that the NBA is not fixed anymore. I don’t have any doubt that it was back in 2002, and I think Stern’s actions since then (lack of transparency…dismissing Donaghy as a rogue official…) give off a really bad vibe. I think they may have learned their lesson since then, and maybe there is a chance for the Kings to compete in the future, as long as we can get the Maloofs out of town.

  23. Jason

    June 7, 2012 at 1:02 am

    correction; washing to watching.

  24. VJ

    June 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    @Sam

    Actually the FBI wanted to investigate this, but at the time of Donaghy’s allegations, the statue of limitations has expired for this crime. According to the article, the FBI did not find it financially feasible to investigate if they cannot prosecute. I think they should have done so either way as I would be very willing to pay extra taxes to find out the truth.

    The 2002 Kings was the greatest team to ever step on a basketball court, even better than Jordan’s bulls. They are the way basketball should be played. From that time, I do not purchase NBA merchandise, and do not pay to go to games. But if someone could reincarnate that same Kings team at their respective ages, I would be willing to up to several thousand dollars to see them. They are that good and worth that much. I wish I could have seen them live in game.

    I still get depressed every time I think about that series, and what might have been if the refs did not fix the game. I truly believe had they won the 2002 title, they would have won at least 2 more. Webbers injury may not have happened, and the course of the NBA would have changed.

    • wkdayton

      June 17, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      Is that true Sam? I’d love to find out more about that investigation. Where’d you hear about that?

      • jermaine j

        September 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        RAplh Naeder wanted a investigation also.

  25. Alberto

    July 1, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Unfortunately, whenever there is big money involved, corruption takes over. When it was my team that lost I sort of felt like sour grapes, but when I saw my team win a game seven they never should have (not this series) I realized that it really is rigged. I didn’t enjoy seeing my team win like that. I wanted to see them make their shots and shut down the other team–not have the refs keep handing them the ball back until they finally won. But they magnify heros in every sport–ace pitchers get giant strike zones while star hitters get tiny ones. I saw Joe Montana get three defensive holding penalties (fresh set of downs each time) until he finally threw the game-winning touchdown. And basketball is the most easily rigged game of all–judgement call opportunity every time down the court. Haven’t been to a game in 33 years and don’t expect to.

  26. Andrew

    July 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Love the article, beautifully written. It’s also an article that badly needed to be written, because the media silence about this inconvenient ‘elephant in the room’ is deafening. It was always going to take a Kings fan to do it. A lot of journalists appear too intimidated, and don’t want to know.

    It’s about so much more than one game, or one team, or even sport for that matter- it’s about truth, deception, fraud and the abuse of power.

    You should check out NFLranking’s youtube channel- he’s actually broken all SEVEN games of that series down to show just how farcical some of the officiating was. Game 6 was not the referees’ performance exception, but rather their opus.

    By my count, Kobe’s infamous elbow on Bibby in the dying seconds of Game 6 was actually the FOURTH elbow he threw in that series alone which not only went unpenalised, but which also subsequently resulted in King player picking up a foul instead!!

    It’s hard to watch these series highlights/lowlights without a sick-bucket handy, but it’s utterly compelling viewing.

  27. wkdayton

    July 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    @Alberto Hey Alberto, that’s incredible to hear coming from a Lakers fan. Most Lakers fans disregard what happened and/or blame the Kings for “choking” down the stretch in Game 7. The fact of the matter remains that if not for two horrific calls in Game 4, and about 4,567 ridiculous calls in Game 6, there would be no Game 7. This series should have ended in 5.

  28. Nate

    July 15, 2012 at 1:40 am

    Extremely well-written. Though I did share that hatred for the Lakers and I did like those Kings and C-Webb, I cannot claim the same level of fandom as you… and even so it still hurts. Stern should be put where he belongs and something should be done to right those wrongs… at least as much as possible. If only… The Kings are the 2002 champions in my heart though and any who care enough about the game and integrity.

  29. Jonathan

    September 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    This might be the first time I have ever posted a comment on any website ever. But, I was so moved by this article and by the comments that I have to say something. That series definitely changed the way I view the world. Others have said that as well. People can ramble and say it is “just a game” but it is more than just a game. Sports make up a large part of the human experience. For a kid of 12 years old, it was more than just a game. It shattered my innocence overnight. I remember clutching my basketball on the court with the chain nets by house after game 7 and just crying. The worst part was that no one seemed to believe me. And they still don’t seem to believe me to this day that the NBA is completely manipulated. Obviously I never got over it if I am still this angry 10 years later. It’s just comforting to hear that others remember this as well.

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  31. MFFL

    January 21, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    I know that Portland, Jazz, and Mavs fans can relate. At least as a Mavericks fan I was able to see my franchise overcome (and beat the Heat no less). It is no coincidence that only 18 teams out of 30 have ever won a championship (that is with L.A. and Boston winning 50% of the NBA championships) and that those 18 teams have been home to either the largest markets or most marketable players.

    Not to mention crooked refs who have ties to organized crime and a penchant for gambling. I remember guys from the Boston College point shaving scandal saying that they had an NBA ref in their pocket back then, and that was in the 70s.

  32. Fvanterp

    February 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I thought I was the only one and I know it’s nearly 11 years later but this was the saddest moment for me watching basketball. It seems stupid and almost like a therapy session but my sports (more specifically basketball) childhood was stolen from me that night. I’ll even go a step further and say part of me died, my love for the game died. Since, I have not been able to really support an NBA team. I too was a Jordan/Chicago fan and I know a lot of people that say they stopped watching basketball seriously after MJ left, but that moment came for me when the Kings lost the 2002 WCF… For years after that I haven’t supported any specific team and just enjoyed the game, but I would always be against the Lakers even now. I like Shaq and I am glad he left the team, I have hated Kobe for years but I think he has grown as a player and I respect him (still don’t really like him).

    All of that being said, it was good to read exactly what I’ve been thinking and to be reassured that others felt the same way. Great article!

  33. Lost Legacy

    February 21, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Although I was too young and never really followed certain teams when the Kings were rising through the NBA ranks I somehow knew the stakes that 2002 series had. At my local elementery I had a really annoying classmate who was a loudmouth Laker fan. I lived in socal at the time but I still hated those Lakers mainly because of that classmate and I hated dudes like Rick Fox. I remembered the Kings back then because they used to run NBA live commercials with the Kings in it IIRC. I remember picking Live up and Peja was automatic from 3. I just loved the 2002 kings team for a variety of reasons.

    Through the years I gained a clearer perspective on what that series meant for basketball like you mentioned. Everything from corrupt refs, to the Kings legacy as a franchse, to how the league works. It is truly sad to see such an amazing team fall to the selfish, ball hog menatlity Lakers. Whats even more dissappointing is the Lakers had already won 2 championships before that series so its not like they didnt have their run at glory.

    That series was just a bad omen for basketball for me. I myself follow the Nuggets these days as they are my hometown team but an all to familier scenario played out recently. The 2009 nuggets who were sorta like the 2002 kings in my time fell in 6 games to the Lakers. The events leading up to that series also were shrowded in drama. Yao getting injured, Pau acting like Shaq 2.0 plus bynum the list goes on.

    As for the Kings its just dissappointing in hindsight. Seeing them move to Seattle is just depressing as I hate the Sonics. You gotta wonder if they won it all in 2002 if perhaps that woulda bought the Kings more time as a franchise somehow.

    As my name says…its all just a lost legacy

  34. Lost Legacy

    February 21, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Following up my last post I found this funny. I lived in socal during the prime Laker years when Shaq and kobe “three-peated” yet the amount of Laker fans were scarce. I honestly dont remember seeing many Laker jerseys or people repping LA at all. I think there more piston fans and clipper fans in the area then laker fans lol. It got even worse in 05 right before I moved. Once the shaq era ended all traces of laker fans just about vanished.

  35. Small market, Big heart

    February 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I wasn’t there, you know. At the time this series was played, I was two years old and able to say two words: “daddy” and “gwampa”. I have gone to every Kings game I could over the years. I saw C-webb’s jersey retired (at the time, I didn’t know who he was, a few years later I would ask my grandfather). I saw Tyreke light up the court in his rookie year. I watched Grant and Jerry sign off in ARCO for what the thought would be the final time. Win or lose, I was always there. Yet that’s pretty much what always happened: they lost. On the day that I asked my Grandfather if they had ever been good, I would begin finding out everything I could. Countless wikipedia searches, withstanding jibes from the prominent laker fan community in my area (we’d moved to Fairfield a few weeks ago), until my interest grew to te point where I blew the 500$ I’d been saving since age seven on an autographed Chris Webber jersey. It was marvelous. Knowing that my team, which I bravely followed despite their mediocrity(and later failure) ad once been good. Had once been the team to beat. Your article shows me what it was like-being there, in the hometown, as underdogs, and then to have the world spit on you…it is humbling. Thank you, sir, for this article.

  36. surajp828

    March 15, 2013 at 7:03 am

    I think the same can be said about the 2011-12 Boston Celtics, and every other team that lost to Miami in the playoffs 2011-12. The refs were out to get the heat the title, and they did it successfully. Exhibit A: The Rondo facesmack. In overtime, during Rondo’s scoring explosion, Rondo drove to the basket, sent a layup in the air, while having his face annihilated by Dwyane Wade’s huge forearm. No call, even Miami fans were calling the refs out…that is until Haslem dunked it 10 seconds later. Exhibit B: Durant. Game 2 nba finals, durant gets hit while shooting (hit near the elbow, shooting foul) by no other than the source of the refs’ salaries, LeBron. No call, it was a close game, and it could have changed the outcome of the series. Durant could have won the title if the officiating was even close to fair. And don’t even get me started on flopping.

  37. Cary

    March 16, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I feel your pain dude. I grew up a Kings fan in the 90′s and went to a lot of games where the expected result was another Kings loss. It was still fun to go though, the fans were still very supportive for a perenially losing team back then. Suddenly, the team traded Richmond for Webber, signed Vlade, drafted J-Will and everything changed. After a few years together growing as a team and swapping the erratic Williams for Bibby, to witness them dominate not only at home but also on the road and finish with the best record in the NBA was almost too surreal for us long suffering Kings fans. As for that Lakers series in 2002, I still can’t believe the Kings lost. Your analysis is spot on and it’s unfortunate that people do perceive Webber as shying away from big games, because he played a hell of game in game 6, a game which he clearly would’ve led the Kings to victory if the referees had officiated it like just another NBA game on the schedule that night. I too am now a bit mistrusting of the NBA because of that series, which is a real downer because I love basketball and it became my favorite sport with the Sacramento Kings of old and their crisp passsing, smooth shooting, motion offense, and unselfish team play making the greatest contribution to my passion for the game.

  38. Taylor

    March 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    I’m a huge Boston fan, and I feel like we were screwed against the Lakers a few years back against the Lakers and everybody knew that was going to be 7 Game Series regardless of who played better, which is why I have a strong hatred for the Lakers. Now, the Lakers have fallen apart and the new NBA Golden Child is Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Get ready to watch a ton of teams get screwed.

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  40. Israel Rico

    May 30, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    They should do a ESPN 30 for 30 flim on this….David Stern should get thrown in jail for this NO sports team should get jobbed.

  41. Will

    June 6, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I am a Knick fan first and foremost and have been since the 90s so I’m not some Kings fan when I say this: in 2002′ I was 12 years old and I watched very game of that King/Laker series and even I could tell this series was rigged. The cruelest thing about that whole series is that the refs weren’t even subtle about it. Their corruption (not incompetence because no ref should ever be THAT stupid) was clear as day and it started in game 1.

    The NBA is a rigged sport and its because of the refs. They are the only sport that can DIRECTLY put points on the board for a team. I se it every night with the lack of calls Carmelo Anthony gets when he is getting mauled in the paint with no calls forthcoming.

    The series in 2002 was a farce and the only difference between that series and today’s NBA is that the refs are more subtle now (Well outside of the CHeat’s run in 2012 that was clearly being rigged)

    Great three part series man. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  42. slowleftarm

    June 6, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    This was a great article and I really related to your sports fandom until you mentioned that you had only become a Kings fan a few years before after randomly deciding to dump the Bulls – when you no doubt do not live anywhere near Chicago and were only frontrunning in the first place. Can’t respect that man – looks like you got what you deserved in 2002!

    • Kels Dayton

      June 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Slowleftarm–slow down man. Everybody and I mean EVERYBODY was a Bulls fan as a little kid back when Jordan played. If you grew up in that era in an area with no NBA team, you’d understand what I mean. I appreciate the comment though!

  43. John B

    June 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I remember this series well. I am not a King fan, but I was so engrossed in it. I didn’t want to see the Flukers win three straight titles. They didn’t deserve their first two. They were the most overrated NBA team in history.

    The way I see it, the Blazers should have win in 00 and 01, and the Kings should have won three straight after that.

  44. jermaine j

    September 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    man, i didnt realize how fied the game was until 2013. i always liked the kings but i was to ypung to realize. i try to tell my friends about this and they dont listen at all.

  45. InsaneHobo

    November 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I never really watched the NBA but after roaming around youtube I stumbled upon this story and it pissed me off. As a Chelsea fan, I know how you feel. 2009 Champions League semi-finals 2nd leg at Stamford Bridge. I’ll never forget that game.

  46. Avery

    January 11, 2014 at 12:09 am

    The 2002 Kings were not the best team of all-time; the 2001 Lakers would have finished them in five games. The 1996 Bulls would have beaten either in 5 games or fewer. What many Laker haters fail to realize is that Sacramento shot 19 more free-throws over the course of the series, and that Sacramento had a double-digit advantage at the free-throw line in every win. The Lakers had a five shot advantage in game 1, when the Kings intentionally fouled three times. The Lakers were getting the shaft in game 2 and in game 5 (game 3 was bad, but the Lakers were just as awful; therefore, they got what they deserved). Did Sacramento get screwed in the fourth quarter of game 6? Sure, but game 5 was just as bad (this was throughout the game, whereas, the screw job in game six was almost exclusively in the fourth quarter). Kobe fouled out of game three, many of which were questionable calls. Shaq gets hosed and fouls out of game 5 (he had eight dunks in his limited playing time; he was on a mission, only curtailed by foul trouble, many were thanks to Vlade flopping). Kobe, who torched the Kings in game one became sick (funny how he gets sick from room service in Sacramento), and really was not 100% until game five. Game four was a blown lead (Sacramento tried to blow a 27 point lead in game 3); a missed call at the end of the half does not explain a 24 point blown lead; Sacramento scored 34 points in the second half. No excuses. If Sacramento makes their free-throws in game 7, they win. No excuses. Game 6 was bad; it was awful, but the officiating was not as one-sided as one might believe, as Sacramento shot an average of three more free-throw attempts per game. I knew that after the BS in game 5, I knew that the Lakers would catch some breaks in game 6, and did not until the fourth quarter.

    Dallas got screwed in 2006, but they only had themselves to blame for blowing an 89-76 lead in the fourth quarter of game three. No excuses. Boston got the short-end of the whistle in game 7 in 2010 against the Lakers, but they got several BS calls in game 2 (even with replay, WTH?), and in games 4 and 5.

    John, how could you say that the Lakers did not deserve their first two? Hater, much? The Lakers blew everyone out in 2001, and was the best team in 2000. The 2000 team did not know how to close, until they were forced to play hard. The Blazers were seventh in the West in 2001, and were swept by the Lakers. Nice try at hating, though.

    • John

      June 3, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      In 2000, the Blazers gave them Game 7. Plain and simple. That Laker team wasn’t as good as their record.

      The next year, the Blazers started 43-19, and then imploded. The Lakers played a team that was a shell of itself in the first round.

      Then, they played Sacramento without Bibby, and they played a Philly team in the Finals that wasn’t that good.

      In 02, the Kings did choke to a certain degree. They did miss major foul shots. Bill Simmons said that everyone but Bibby looked scared to death. However, the Lakers did get several key calls that helped them win that series.

      When SA got their act together in 03, and when the Lakers had to play a team with heart in the 04 Finals (instead of some Eastern Conference can of dog food), they got their a** kicked.

  47. JLP

    January 19, 2014 at 12:18 am

    I remember that series clearly. It’s been over 10 years and I’m still shocked about what happened. The Sacramento Kings were the real NBA Champions of 2002.

  48. Mike

    February 20, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Fair weather fan with his feelings hurt. He’s probably a Heat fan by now, so don’t feel too sorry for him.

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