The Babe’s iconic words will ring true until long after sun rises in the west and sets in the east. This particular blog references neither heroes nor legends of the past, but those who just quite couldn’t get over the championship hump. The teams that had as much talent, chemistry, and star power to bring home a title, but just couldn’t rise to the occasion come crunch time. The teams you and your friends look back and think, “Oh yeah, that team was loaded…how the hell did they not win a championship?” Well, I may not be able to tell you why they didn’t win a championship, I sure can tell you why they should have.
This Week’s Subject: ’01-02 Sacramento Kings
The ’01-‘02 Kings are widely regarded as one of the best teams in NBA history to not win a championship. This team was flat out stacked: Bibby, Christie, Stojakovic, Webber, & Divac. Bring in Hedo Turkoglu, Bobby Jackson, and current Survivor contestant Scot Pollard off the bench and there is no question as to why they finished with the best record in the western conference (61-21). Chris Webber averaged a double-double at 24.5 ppg and 10.1 rebounds and shot just under 50% from the field leading this team of way above average role players. With Bibby commanding the point, Divac wrecking the paint, and Peja being a straight sniper from the corner, it looked as if the city of Sacramento (we all know how die hard those Sacromentonians are) may get the championship they have been yearning for since they moved the franchise from Kansas City waaaaay back in 1985. Too bad they don’t give championships after the regular season (source: lifelong Braves fan – see the 90’s).
Chemistry was the name of the game as the Kings frequently churned out Globetrotter-esque possessions with Webber, Divac, and Bibby playing the parts of Curly Neal, Meadowlark Lemon, and Sweet Lou Dunbar. Head coach Rick Adelman had The Kings running as a well-oiled machine by the time the playoffs came around as they cruised through the first two rounds; beating the Jazz in 4 (3-1 series record, back when the 1st rd was rightfully a 5 game series) and dismantling the Mavericks in 5 games. The only thing that stood in the way was a duo that makes up half of any “Mount Rushmore” you can put together starting in the 90’s: Shaq and Kobe.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals is considered one of, if not the most controversial series in NBA history. The series proved to be a battle of two evenly matched teams as it entered game five split 2-2. The Kings then took game 5 at home with a thrilling one point victory that left them one win shy of a trip to the NBA Finals. With games three and four being decided by one point each, game six became must-see TV, but nobody besides the referees (and some believe David Stern) foresaw what was about to unfold.
David Stern once said that his dream NBA Finals would be the Lakers vs. the Lakers. It sure seemed that the refs would grant at least half of David Stern’s wish as the 4th quarter of this close-out game for the Kings turned into a free throw parade for the Lakers. The entire game was a circus of ghost fouls against the Kings that seemed to consist of things such as breathing on a player and standing on the court while Shaq has the ball. The Lakers on the other hand, were the proud beneficiaries of 40 free throw attempts (27 in the 4th quarter) while Rick Adelman sat on the bench with Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard (both fouled out) in amazement at what was taking place. The Lakers ended up taking game 6 by a score of 106-102.
The Kings were unable to defeat the Lakers in game 7 and thus end up having a potential Pulitzer Prize winning profile written about them almost 14 years after the fact. Blaming the refs for the entire series loss may come off a little bit like Cubs fans blaming Steve Bartman for ruining their chances at going to their first World Series since the Truman administration (as if they didn’t subsequently give up 8 straight runs), but that game 6 suuuuure looked rigged. The Kings may have gotten robbed, but I personally am glad they didn’t win. It adds to the debate of “what may have been” with the Kings and gives a little more assurance to Shaq and Kobe’s dominance during their three-peat. Plus, the Sacramento Kings having as many titles as the entire city of Atlanta would leave me with no choice but to take a swan dive headfirst off of the Sears Tower. So congratulations Sacramento, somebody remembers that you were almost great.