The year was 2002, and the Lakers and Kings were amidst one of the more entertaining series at the time. Two Western Conference rivals with just a mere 386 miles between them; the Lakers had the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood, while the Kings struck fear in their opponents with the relentless noise of cowbells. It was no question that these were two of the best teams in the West at the time. The Lakers had Kobe and Shaq, two of the most dominant forces at their respective positions, while the Kings preferred to play more of a team game, averaging 23.9 assists per game. Despite the two teams employing different play styles, there was no question that Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals was one of the more entertaining and controversial games in recent memory.
“Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”
This quote comes from Tim Donaghy, a NBA official who was convicted of “fixing” NBA games and purposely giving one team an advantage over the other. While the Kings and Lakers were never specifically mentioned, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that these were the two teams in question. That night, the Lakers attempted 40 free throws to the Kings’ 25 with the Lakers attempting a ridiculous 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. Specifically, there was a play at the end of the game where Lakers guard Kobe Bryant elbows Kings guard Mike Bibby and isn’t called for an offensive foul
. You can see the play below:
The above play was just one of many foul calls the refs blatantly missed that night that, without a doubt, cost the Kings a trip to the NBA Finals. Scott Pollard, the backup center for the Kings at the time, had this to say about the officiating:
“My first thought [upon hearing Donaghy’s allegation] was: I knew it. I’m not going to say there was a conspiracy. I just think something wasn’t right. It was unfair. We didn’t have a chance to win that game.”
While the argument can be made that the Kings still had an opportunity to win the series by winning Game 7, it’s important to remember that there shouldn’t have been a Game 7 if the referees did their job in Game 6.