For Sacramento Kings fans, the 2002 Western Conference Final remains a sore spot. The Kings had the best team in the league and rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, setting up a showdown against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The series was one of the best in NBA history. The two teams split the first two games in Sacramento and headed back to L.A. tied up at 1-1.
The Kings took Game 3 103-90 and held a 14-point lead at the half of Game 4. The Lakers battled back and cut the deficit to two. Robert Horry hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give L.A. the win and tie the series at 2-2.
Chris Webber was the best player on that Sacramento team. He jumped on Zach Lowe’s podcast and was asked about that series:
“Anytime a last-second shot happens, it takes the air out. We never thought the game was closed with any Laker game. I mean, they had Kobe and Shaq and Phil Jackson, so we knew we were up against the best, maybe some of the best to ever do it.
That was a big shot, but we were rolling. We knew how to space the floor. We were playing a different way. We liked playing on the road more, Eddie Murphy over there looking at us. Denzel (Washington).”
Mike Bibby’s jumper with 8.2 seconds left gave the Kings a 92-91 win in Game 5. The two teams went toe-to-toe in Game 6, which will go down as one of the most controversial games in NBA history.
The Lakers had 40 free-throw attempts to Sacramento’s 25. L.A. shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. 27 free throws!!! While the Kings only went to the line nine times in the period.
Webber went 17 years without watching Game 6 and finally did so in 2019:
“Yeah, I watched it a year-and-a-half ago because I had to write about it. I’m writing an autobiography and I will talk about that whole series a lot. Can’t be bitter about it, but what happened, happened.
I couldn’t watch that game until I had to a couple of years ago. That damn game. After that game during an interview in the locker room, I said ‘that was the first time I have ever been cheated.’ A lot of that game is why I commentate now. When I commentate, I don’t care if the ref likes it or not, and I am friends with referees.
The lack of balls that the media had, I don’t know what to say except I knew it then. Players made comments to me on the other team then. I am in sports, so what can you do? You can’t cry about it and say what if? Say what it is and keep moving.”
Sacramento lost Game 7 in overtime at home. The Kings missed 14 free-throws in the tightly contested affair as the Lakers got a 112-106 win:
“Just watch the series. Look how we beat them by 23 or 25 the game before. We had them figured out. We didn’t win a championship, we aren’t champions. We should have won the next game, we should have made free-throws.”
The Lakers went on to win their third consecutive championship, beating the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals.
The Kings were still a dominant team the following season. Unfortunately, Webber got hurt in Game 2 of the second-round series against the Dallas Mavericks during the 2003 playoffs.
Webber was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2004-05 season. He averaged 23.5 points and 10.6 rebounds over his seven seasons in Sacramento and looked back at his time there fondly:
“I love Sacramento. I go there all the time. I have business and friends there. I wanted to run the team. I don’t think anyone really knows the pain that we have. We did lose to the best. We lost to three Hall of Famers, and one happened to be on the sideline coaching.
I made a decision to stay there. Not many people know that there was a trade in the works for me to go to L.A. Also, I almost went to San Antonio as a free agent.
It’s a travesty we didn’t win, man. It was so much fun.”
Those Kings squads were terrific to watch. Head coach Rick Adelman implemented a system that was ahead of its time. It was magical watching how they spaced the floor and unselfishly shared the ball.
Webber — who should be in the Hall of Fame — spent the best years of his career in Sacramento. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy with the Kings.