The 1998-99 NBA season wound up shortened due to the lockout, and it came at a bad time for the Sacramento Kings, who were busy throughout the offseason.
President of basketball operations Geoff Petrie was in the middle of putting the finishing touches on his team and made a bunch of key moves to set the team up for the best run in franchise history.
In May, Petrie traded Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe to the Washington Bullets for All-Star Chris Webber, which will go down as the best trade in franchise history. He was also busy in the open market, signing center Vlade Divac, swingman Vernon Maxwell and guard Jon Barry. Petrie also took a chance on White Chocolate with the No. 7 pick in the draft.
He also found the perfect coach to suit his new roster’s talent, Rick Adelman.
With the lockout pushing the season opener until March, the NBA condensed the season to 50 games, which also came with a weird rule that had each team play on three consecutive nights.
The timing meant the Kings had to figure out their system and chemistry in a hurry, which they didn’t.
Leading up to their April 10, 1999 home game against the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento was 15-20, 1.5 games behind the Phoenix Suns for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. The Kings had 15 games to get things rolling if they wanted to make the playoffs for just the third time since moving to Sacramento.
The Kings trailed the Nuggets by two at the half and it was tied up at 70 with 4:47 to go in the third. That’s when Chris Webber and “Big Nasty” Corliss Williamson combined to score eight points in a row for Sacramento, helping the Kings take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Chauncey Billups hit a free throw to cut the Kings lead to 97-94 with 2:57 left in the game. That is when the rookie Jason Williams came up clutch. White Chocolate hit 15-foot jumper and followed that up with a big 3-pointer, pushing Sacramento’s lead to eight. The Kings went on to a 110-104 win.
Why was this win so significant? It was the first win of a stretch where Sacramento went 12-3 to finish out the year and climb up to the No. 6 seed to play the defending Western Conference Champion Utah Jazz.
Earlier this week, I asked former King Scot Pollard what making the playoffs and pushing the Jazz to a deciding fifth game meant to the team.
“I could see great things on the horizon. We played Utah a year after they lost to Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals. They were the No. 3 seed and we were No. 6 and took them the distance to five games. It was a good series and we thought we had a chance to build into something special.”
Looking back, who knows what would have happened if the Kings didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Petrie was in his fifth year running the team and the Maloofs had just taken over ownership in 1998.
Either way, it all worked out for the best. The Kings made the playoffs for seven more years after that and ignited one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports.