SACRAMENTO — There are events that happen during the history of a professional franchise that help define who they are. Some moments are amazing that help set the tenor for years. Others are incredibly destructive and have a lasting impact.
For the San Francisco 49ers, it was Dwight Clark’s incredible catch in the 1981 NFC Championship game that became the nexus for a dynasty.
The Sacramento Kings aren’t so lucky. A poorly officiated Game 6 in the 2001-02 Western Conference finals cost the team a chance to eliminate the Los Angeles Lakers and move onto the NBA Finals. Sacramento stumbled in Game 7 and the rest is history.
It’s a moment in time that completely shifted the franchise. On the heels of defeat, a series of failed arena funding attempts almost cost Sacramento their NBA team.
More than 17 years later, Game 6 is still a topic of discussion. It was brought up again by disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy on the upcoming Warriors Insider podcast. Donaghy is on a promotional tour for his upcoming movie project, “Inside Game” and he had no problem chiming in on what he believes was an injustice.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Sacramento Kings should have a ring on their finger,” Donaghy told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole. “They were the best team in the league that year. That Game 6 was definitely a situation where towards the end of that game they got robbed.”
According to Donaghy, long time NBA official Dick Bevatta was a fixer of sorts for the league. And in the controversial Game 6, he may have helped change the outcome of the game and eventually, the series.
“He claimed several times to several of us that he was the NBA’s go-to guy,” Donaghy said of Bavetta. “He was put on Game 6s to force 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 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.”
During the latest episode of the Purple Talk podcast, we were able to play Donaghy’s comments for long time Kings play-by-play announcer Grant Napear, as well as former Kings shooting guard Doug Christie, who was on the court during that infamous series.
“I believe to this day, it was the worst officiated game in NBA history,” Napear said. “And as bad as that was, and Doug is probably better to talk about this than I, the Kings, in Game 7, and they played all year to get home court advantage, missed 14 free throws in a Game 7. And I can’t blame that on Tim Donaghy or the refs or anyone else.”
Napear has spent 32 years calling games for the Kings. He wasn’t on the call that evening, but he did Games 3 and 4 on the radio side.
“Everyone always talks about Dick Bavetta, I think Bob Delaney was the most incompetent official that I’ve ever seen in a big game,” Napear said. “His officiating in Game 6 of that game, in LA, was beyond comprehension to me.”
For Christie, he has a different perspective. Tasked with guard superstar Kobe Bryant, his focus was 100 percent on the task at hand. Only in hindsight has he had a chance to mull over the officiating of that night.
“When you’re in the midst of it, it’s hard to grasp ahold of it, because you can’t do what Grant [just did],” Christie said. “He’s on the outside looking in. He’s in it, but you have to be a little bit objective and different things while you’re inside of it. You can’t start complaining, because if you start complaining, it takes you out of your game.”
Like Napear, Christie acknowledged the Kings’ failures in Game 7. As much as the fans, and people like Donaghy, want to point fingers at the officials, Sacramento had every opportunity to win the series and they didn’t get the job done.
“We knew something as happening, but to Grant’s point, we still had the ability to handle the business and we didn’t handle the business,” Christie said.
Christie, along with his teammates, many of which are back in Sacramento working for the team, haven’t forgotten. They, as much as anyone else, wanted a parade down the streets of Sacramento, which is a big reason the group has gravitated back to the Capital City.
[RELATED: What if Kings had won Game 4]
“It’s about as tough as you can get,” Christie said. “But you know what? I always tell Grant, I’ve learned more about myself through that little bit of span because of losses, than I ever did through any win and I’m better for it. That’s why when I see Vlade [Divac] and I see Peja [Stoyakovic] and I see Bobby [Jackson] and myself here, we have unfinished business”
The Sacramento Kings‘ franchise was forever changed from the events of the 2001-02 Western Conference Finals. Chris Webber would blow out his knee the next season and the window quickly closed for the Kings. By the 2005-06 season, the final remnance from that team were gone, which is the last time the franchise made the NBA playoffs.
For the rest of the conversation with Napear and Christie, tune in to the latest episode of Purple Talk.
Kings ‘robbed’ in 2002 Western Conference finals, Tim Donaghy claims originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area