Kings ‘robbed’ in 2002 Western Conference finals, Tim Donaghy claims

James Ham | NBC SPORTS 

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.

“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.

Why disgraced NBA ref Donaghy wants to share his regrets

Monte Poole | NBC SPORTS 

Tim Donaghy admits opening the door that sent him descending into his own personal hell, costing him his family, his career and the life he’d wanted since he was a boy dreaming of following his father into utopia.

He was there. He’d made it. He had it all. And gave it away.

This man, who cheated his job, his colleagues and the game of basketball wants you to know his head was in the wrong place then, but his heart is in the right place now.

He’s still a whistleblower, only not in the literal definition.

I asked if he considered whether credibility should be a factor in anything he says.

‘I don’t really need to bury the NBA,” Donaghy said on a recent episode of NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors Insider Podcast. “I just want the truth to be known about what I did and how I did it.”

Donaghy, 52, is widely known as the dirty NBA ref. He participated in illegal betting, got caught, fessed up to wire fraud and providing betting tips — including some games in which he was an official. He was convicted and spent 15 months bouncing from federal prison to halfway house to county jail before being released in November 2009.

The 10th anniversary of his freedom is Tuesday, and it comes a few days after the national release of “Inside Man,” a movie based on his experiences.

Donaghy clearly wants to clean out his NBA closet, throw everything onto the floor for all to see. Legalized gambling in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban is only going to become more and more a part of the league’s landscape.

“The bottom line is the NBA is going to do whatever they can do to create more revenue,” Donaghy said. “Who knows how much they’re going to lose from this whole China deal? With gambling, it’s a way to replace that revenue.”

Donaghy then turned forecaster.

“At some point, you’re going to see the ability for a fan sitting in a seat to bet, swiping his credit card, whether James Harden is going to score 10 3-pointers or not that night,” he said. “It’s going to keep fans interactively in their seats, even when there’s a 20- or 25-point blowout.

“So, there’s a lot of things that are going to happen, moving forward, with gambling that are going to be positive for the NBA, including creating a large revenue stream.”

To hear Donaghy tell it, there also is a history of league manipulation, with one of the more blatant examples dating back to the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers and Kings battled in a classic series, with the Sacramento winning Game 5 at Arco Arena to take a 3-2 series lead. Win Game 6, and the Kings advance to The Finals. The NBA, according to Donaghy, took steps to jeopardize any possibility of that.

“Dick Bavetta was on that game,” Donaghy said, referring to one of the league’s veteran officials. “And he claimed several times, to several of us, that he was the NBA’s go-to guy, that he was put on Game 6s to forces Game 7s.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, or a lot of people from inside the NBA. They know 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 it was unfortunate for Sacramento, because they should have a ring on their finger.”

That game had been replayed countless times in the heads of Kings fans, players and employees. They took note of the foul calls in the fourth quarter of a closer Game 6, when LA took 27 free throws, to nine for Sacramento.

The goal was, according to Donaghy, to keep the Lakers and their superstars — Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — playing for as long as possible. To maintain international interest. To ensure spectacular ratings.

“There’s no doubt that there is star treatment,” Donaghy said. “It’s discussed in the meetings. Obviously, people don’t pay an enormous amount of money to sit in those courtside seats to see players like Kobe, LeBron, Shaq — all the greats — sit on the bench and be in foul trouble.”

Donaghy even went so far as to identify former officials who played favorites or maintained feuds with specific players.

His downfall began not with the first time he participated in illegal betting — on a golf course in the Philadelphia area — but with the choice of the company he kept.

“You can’t turn back time,” he said. “If you could, I’d be the first one in line begging for that opportunity. I wouldn’t have gotten involved in gambling. I wouldn’t have hung out with a cast of characters that I probably shouldn’t have been hanging out with.”