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Game 6 Of The 2002 Western Conference Finals Between The Lakers And Kings And The Controversy That Followed

Game 6 Of the 2002 Western Conference Finals Between The Lakers And Kings And The Controversy That Followed

When the new millennium hit, the basketball world had successfully moved on from Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and their dominance in the 1990s.

The Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and former Bulls coach, Phil Jackson, took the NBA by storm when they won three consecutive titles. This marks the last time a team has completed a three-peat in the NBA.

But what if I told you this incredible three-peat almost didn't happen? And what if I told you it shouldn't have happened?

The Lakers continued to rule the league in the year 2002 thanks to what's been called a “controversy”.

The Back-To-Back Champion Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings

The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off two straight championships by the start of the 2001-02 season. The Lakers were, of course, on top of everyone's list of favorites to win the championship that season.

After the season concluded, there was one team that stood above the rest during the regular season. This one team showed what true team basketball was like, and they seemed to be strong at every position.

The thing that shocked people was this team that stood above the rest, wasn't the Lakers, instead, it was the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings held the best record in the 2001-02 season with a 61-21 record. The Lakers, on the other hand, finished with a 58-24 record, placing them third in the West.

Once the playoffs rolled around, the Lakers and Kings stormed through the first two rounds, only losing a combined three games.

Then, the matchup everyone wanted to see in the Western Conference Finals happened; the Lakers were taking on the Kings.

Most experts believed whoever won this series would be the NBA champions. The Kings believed this year was their year to shine and get over that hump.

After the first five games of the series, it looked like maybe they were right. The Kings held a 3-2 series lead going into a critical Game 6 in Los Angeles.

The Kings felt good about their chances in Los Angeles for Game 6. They already won a game in Los Angeles, which was Game 3. The Kings also came so close to winning Game 4, losing by one on a Robert Horry buzzer-beating three-pointer.

The Lakers' top two players, Shaq and Kobe, each missed game-winning shots, but on the last shot, the Kings' center, Vlade Divac, smacked the rebound away, and it ended up in Horry's hands for the game-winner.

“Anybody could have made that shot,” Divac said about Horry's game-winner. “It’s a lucky shot that’s all.”

Horry wasn't pleased with Divac's comments and responded by saying:

“It wasn’t no luck shot. I’ve been doing that all my career. He should know. He should read in the paper or something.”

This back and forth helped define the rivalry these two teams had in the early 2000s, and this time, the Kings were looking to come out on top.

The Controversy Of Game 6

The Lakers and the Kings battled against each other in the first half of Game 6 like they've done all series. When halftime arrived, the Kings led 56-51, and they were feeling good about themselves.

After the third quarter, the Kings lost their halftime lead but held on to remain tied with the Lakers.

The score was 75-75 going into the final quarter, and the Kings had a legit chance to win the game and knock the Lakers out of the playoffs. Then, the fourth quarter happened.

The fourth quarter was where the rumor of controversy began. The reason many fans, especially Kings fans, believed the NBA rigged the game was because of the number of foul shots attempted by the Lakers.

After the first five games of the series, the Lakers averaged about 25 free throw attempts per game. In the fourth quarter of Game 6, the Lakers attempted an incredible 27 free throws and made 21.

The Kings only managed nine free-throw attempts in the quarter, making seven. The fact the Lakers had 18 more free throw attempts in the quarter is crazy to think about.

The Lakers ended up winning the game by a score of 106-102 to force a Game 7, where they would upset the Kings in Sacramento, and go on to win their third title by sweeping the New Jersey Nets.

Game 6 changed everything for the Kings as a franchise. They haven't quite matched their early 2000s success since, and it's not just the fans saying the game was rigged.

Former NBA referee, Tim Donaghy, who was caught gambling on games that he was refereeing, had this to say about Game 6:

“Sacramento had the best team in the league. But the referees and league didn’t allow the better team to win.”

Donaghy also had to this about one of the referees who officiated Game 6, Dick Bavetta:

“He claimed several times to several of us that he was the NBA’s go-to guy. He was put on Game 6s to force Game 7s. I think there’s no doubt in my mind or a lot of people from the inside of the NBA, they know that they gave the Lakers the benefit of several calls in that game, thinking it was just going to go to a Game 7 and Sacramento was just going to go to a Game 7 and Sacramento was going to win on their home floor. The Lakers win. They win the championship and really, it’s unfortunate for Sacramento, because they should definitely have a ring on their finger.”

Many people in the NBA discredit Donaghy by saying he's making this up to save himself from his gambling scandal. But Donaghy isn't the only one who believes something wasn't right with Game 6.

“I believe to this day, it was the worst officiated game in NBA history,” said Sacramento Kings play-by-play announcer Grant Napear.

Bill Simmons, who was at ESPN at the time, said this about Game 6:

“From an officiating standpoint, the most one-sided game of the past decade.”

So, what do you believe? Did the NBA rig Game 6 to get more views in a Game 7? Did the league want the Lakers to be champions once again? Or did the Kings choke away the series and their chances at a title?

We will never know for sure, but this is always a great topic to discuss when talking about the history of the NBA.


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