Sacramento Kings Playoff Memories: The ‘Rigged’ Game


May 31, 2002.

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The Sacramento Kings, the “Greatest Show on Earth,” is returning to the Staples Center in Los Angeles with a chance to close out their arch rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, and head to their first ever NBA Finals appearance.

How did the Kings get to this point? After alternating wins in the first four games, the stage was set for tremendous drama in Game Five back at ARCO Arena. With the series deadlocked at two, and neither team willing to give the other an edge, it was a tense back-and-forth game until the final seconds. With the Kings down by one with 11 seconds to go, Mike Bibby got free after a nice pick by Chris Webber, and the rest, as they say, is history:

So, with the Kings needing one more win to get to the Finals, Sacramento was relaxed, loose and confident that they could emerge victorious in Hollywood. After all, the Kings did win Game Three at Staples with ease, and came within a point of stealing Game Four there, victimized by Robert Horry’s last second heroics.

Game Six started out like a battle between two heavyweights, but early in the game, Kobe Bryant was able to draw a “foul” on Bibby (skip to 6:32 to see the foul), and from that point on, the game would turn from an epic matchup, into one of the biggest conspiracies in the history of sports.

There has been numerous Youtube videos made about this game, and it breathed life into a theory by most fans that the NBA is rigged to favor the teams that they want to see matched up in the Finals, so that way, more people will tune in, and the more people who tune in, the more revenue the league gets.

Everybody knows that the Lakers are the darlings of the NBA. How else can you explain the league putting them on TV so much this past season despite their putrid record? L.A. is the bigger market, it’s the flashier market, and it’s a money maker market.

Sacramento? In the eyes of the league, the capitol city has none of those things. But in 2002, the Kings did have one of the most entertaining teams in the league, a team that fans paid money, and sold out arenas all over the country to see.

But to the NBA, having a Kings/Nets (the Eastern Conference winners that season) Finals would had been disastrous for the league. Even more disastrous for the NBA: A highly entertaining Western Conference Finals ending early, which was what the Kings were threatening to do.

So according to conspiracy theorists, this is what happened: In order to extend the series to a Game Seven back in Sacramento, the NBA employed their most trustworthy officials to tilt the game into the Lakers favor. They did this by calling phantom fouls and questionable calls against the Kings, which could explain why the Kings were so quick to get into foul trouble, and were out of rhythm the entire game.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t a made up conspiracy, it really happened.

Former NBA referee Tom Donaghy admitted to NPR that the refs rigged the game in order for the series to go the full seven games, and whether you believe that or not, what can’t be denied, and we have video to prove it, is that there was something different about that game, something that was working against the Kings all night long.

And unfortunately, it worked. The Kings lost that heartbreaker 106-102, and Doug Christie missed a three-pointer that would had given the Sacramento the lead late in overtime in Game Seven, and once again, Sacramento was forced to watch the Lakers live out their dream.

It hurts even more today because that was the best year for the “Greatest Show on Earth” to win a title. If they would had beaten the Lakers, Sacramento would had easily rolled over the New Jersey Nets, and a championship banner would be hanging from the rafters at Sleep Train Arena today.

But in the end, we have to settle for the awful memory of being robbed of a chance to compete for a title, and forever wonder what could had been.

Come to think of it, that could be the next 30 for 30 film.