We are stuck in quarantine and that only means one thing, time to grab your tin foil hat out of the closet and get ready for another edition of Sports Conspiracies. We had a couple volumes in this anthology a while back and they were well received. I didn’t want to rush my next big topic of conspiracy so I waited, waited until we were all in our homes, cooped up and in need of some thought provoking material.
Let me take you back, it is 2002, the NBA playoffs have begun, the Los Angeles Lakers are heading back to the Western Conference Finals in hopes of keeping their “three-peat” dream alive. Their opponent, the rag-tag inner-state rival, Sacramento Kings. It is one of the greatest playoff series in the history of sports and certainly the NBA. The first four games of the series were legendary, each team exchanging wins, Lakers, Kings,Lakers, Kings all by a margin of 11 points total. Game 5 was crucial, the winner would have a 3-2 series lead, the game was played in Sacramento and the Kings would pull off a victory by the score of 92-91. Everything seemed to be on the up and up, two teams battling it out for the Western Conference crown.
This is where our conspiracy begins to take shape, the NBA realized they had a major problem. The Eastern Conference Finals were about to finish up with the New Jersey Nets defeating the Boston Celtics and the dream of a Celtics vs Lakers finals for the first time since the 80’s was quickly evaporating. The last thing the NBA could have would be to have a Nets vs Kings NBA Finals, the ratings would be an absolute disaster. Nobody moved the needle more than Shaq, Kobe, Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers, especially when they are in pursuit of their third straight championship. Something had to be done and something had to be done fast. The call was made to the NBA referees, there needed to be a game 7, this series could not end in six and when it goes to game 7, let’s try and get the Lakers over the hump. First priority, game 6 has to go to the Lakers.
A couple years later when NBA Commissioner David Stern was asked about his dream NBA finals match-up he was quoted as saying “Lakers versus Lakers… I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t a special fascination with the Lakers.”
Game 6 started out with the Kings putting the pressure on the Lakers and then the game began to change. The disparity in foul calls started to become evident. The Kings players and Head Coach Rick Adelman started to grow frustrated with the officiating and by the end of the game, the Lakers had attempted FORTY free throws, TWENTY SEVEN of them coming in the fourth quarter. The Lakers had averaged twenty five free throws through the first five games of this series.
Another, feather in the cap of the conspiracy theorists for this game, come from former referee Tim Donaghy, who was found guilty by the FBI for fixing NBA games that he officiated. Donaghy did not officiate the 2002 Western Conference Finals but he did confirm that it was known throughout the NBA that a decision was made for the game to be fixed in the Lakers favor. NBA insiders have also agreed with Donaghy, Stephen A. Smith, Bill Plaschke, Mike Wilbon and Skip Bayless all covered the game and they agreed it was an embarrassment to the NBA and revere it as one of if not the worst officiated games of all time.
If you watch these videos, I think you will have a whole new view point of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history, that probably should have ended in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Nothing I like more than the Shaq and Kobe Lake Show but the Sacramento Kings might have had the better team, at least for one series that was widely skewed by some quirky officiating and a call from the man, the myth, the legend, the ultimate fixer, David Stern, rest in peace Commissioner.