Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Chris Crewell Bee file, 2002 Mike Bibby, right, is hugged by Vlade Divac after scoring to give the Kings a win over the Lakers in Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference finals.

Ailene Voisin: 2002 playoff series still haunts Kings

Published: Saturday, Mar. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 8:09 am

More than a decade has passed since these teams tangled in one of the most theatrical and controversial Western Conference finals (2002) in the NBA modern era.

Remember the mysterious room service cheeseburger? The flopping, trash talking and horrific officiating in Game 6? Consumer advocate Ralph Nader smelling something fishy and taking up the Kings' cause? The sensational passing, the last-second surprises and that freak Rob- ert Horry sequence in Game 4?

Around here, this was "Les Mis" without the uplifting ending. Down there in Southern California, these were the Lakers playing familiar roles and sticking around for yet another curtain call.

"I don't know how we didn't win this series," a visibly dejected coach Rick Adelman had said moments after his Kings lost the series and missed out on an inaugural appearance in the NBA Finals. "I guess our time has to come some other year."

So here it is 11 seasons later, and the Kings haven't sniffed another conference finals. Heck, by the end of next month, the Kings might not even exist. Unless Ron Burkle, Mark Mastrov, Vivek Ranadive and Paul Jacobs successfully counteroffer that group in Seattle – or David Stern and his board of governors offer Seattle an expansion team – there will be no next game, no next rematch, against the Lakers.

But no predictions about the Kings' future. The circumstances about a sale and possible relocation fluctuate by the hour, with Mayor Kevin Johnson proving as formidable in the political arena as he was on the court (three-time All-Star). Two seasons ago, remember, when the Lakers visited for the regular- season finale, the Kings presumably were on the move to Anaheim. Then they had a deal on a downtown arena in the railyard. Then they were off to Virginia Beach. Then they were heading to Seattle, to become known not as Kings but as Sonics.

So who knows?

Four major investors have emerged. Sacramento's often-fractured City Council approved a private-public arena partnership. KJ is preparing a fullcourt press for Wednesday's address to Stern and influential members of the league's finance and relocation committee.

Strange things happen in this league. Rob Horry did hit that three-point shot …

So getting back to Lakers and Kings, and just in case this indeed is the finale, here are five memories from that remarkable 2002 series:

1. That tasty Game 2 win here: Kobe Bryant suffered from the effects of a bad cheeseburger he said he consumed at the team hotel, but Chris Webber and Vlade Divac effectively tag-teamed Shaquille O'Neal, and the Kings evened the series.

2. The Horry dagger: This was a classic catch-and-shoot sequence at the end of Game 4, except that Divac was attempting to tap the defensive rebound harmlessly farther downcourt, away from all of the Lakers, as the game clock expired. Instead, with the Kings about to snatch a 3-1 series lead, Horry, who was lingering at top of the circle, grabbed the ball and hit the game-winning three for the 100-99 victory.

3. Bibby's big shot: In his first postseason with the Kings, Mike Bibby struck a 22-footer from the right side for the Game 5 win, an emotional response to the bruising loss in L.A. two days earlier.

4. Game 6: Terrible night for the NBA. Virtually every national writer at Staples Center believed the officials favored the home team (note the 40-25 disparity in free-throw attempts), particularly in the fourth quarter, when Divac and Scot Pollard were quickly eliminated on a series of questionable calls. An outraged Nader later contacted the league and demanded a public inquiry.

5. That seventh game: This, folks, was the series. The home-court advantage in the series belonged to the Kings, which meant the deciding game was played at their home, which meant the stats and the stars overwhelmingly aligned for Sacramento. But while deafening, Arco Arena was also the site of opportunity lost.

As they had throughout the series, the Kings gained and squandered a large lead. Divac and Hedo Turkoglu missed four free throws combined in the first period. The Kings overall converted only 16 of 30 attempts. Doug Christie and Peja Stojakovic airballed late jumpers. Bobby Jackson, one of the few Kings who didn't appear overwhelmed by the moment, inexplicably was on the bench during the crucial stretches of the fourth quarter and overtime.

Kobe sustained his brilliance throughout. Shaq, though slowed by a sore foot, dominated when necessary. Lakers coach Phil Jackson worked the refs, challenged his players, found a way for his players to prevail. But here's another memory for you: Kobe and Shaq agree with Adelman that the Kings were the better team.

Ninety minutes before tipoff of the ensuing championship series against the New Jersey Nets, in fact, Shaq summoned writers to his locker. He wrote a poem, he said, for Adelman. "Don't cry," he recited. "Dry your eyes. Here comes Shaq with his four little guys (teammates)."

Later, after dropping 40 points and 12 rebounds on the Nets, the massive center added: "That game's dedicated to Rick Adelman. The madder I get, the more I have to dominate. So thank you, Mr. Adelman."

Was the big guy a hoot or what? Does anyone not remember that the 2002 Western Conference finals were a television ratings winner? That the series put Sacramento on the international map?

Jackson whining about cowbells. Kobe seizing on the crowd's energy for one ferocious dunk after another. Rick Fox getting into Christie's head. Derek Fisher burying jumpers over live bodies. Vlade flopping and talking, and scoring, rebounding and creating. Webber rising on the big stage. Bibby emerging as a clutch performer.

These were the Kings, displaying the talent to challenge for a championship but neither the poise nor the postseason experience to complete the act. Maybe next decade then. If there is a next decade.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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