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The late 90’s and early 2000’s, Sacramento Kings were some of the most beloved teams in NBA history. Basketball fans look back at those teams with a certain nostalgia because of the excitement they brought to the game. A big part of that excitement was point guard Jason Williams aka: White Chocolate. Williams was a dynamic player who would leave fans amazed after shooting a thirty foot jumper or throwing a no-look pass through three defenders. Along with the endless streams of highlights that we still see shared on Facebook today came bad decisions, inconsistent play and a lack of maturity off the court. After getting swept by the Lakers in the 2001 Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Kings made a very tough decision and traded Jason Williams and Nick Anderson to the Vancouver Grizzlies (who relocated to Memphis that summer) for Mike Bibby and Brent Price, it was an unpopular move. Jason Williams was a fan favorite but, it was the right move as the Kings picked up a better, more consistent and more dependable point guard. This move took the Kings from a good team that was fun to watch to a great team looking to win a championship.
The Kings started the 2001-2002 season winning 15 of their first 20 games despite Chris Webber missing those games with an ankle injury. The biggest reason for the hot start and continued success throughout the season was the seamless integration of Mike Bibby into the Kings system. You have to give a lot of credit to Rick Adelman for that. The head coach of the Sacramento Kings during the “glory years.” Adelman is one of the most underrated coaches of all time. Adelman helped guide Bibby to a very productive season as he averaged 13.7 points, and 5 assists per game, while shooting 45% from the field, and 37% from three point range. Bibby’s backcourt partner was huge during this memorable season as well.
Doug Christie had one of his best seasons during the 2001- 2002 campaign. Christie was productive on both ends of the floor as he was selected to the All-NBA Defensive team. During that time Christie had to stick some of the greatest shooting guards and small forwards of all time. Christie was able to hold his own sticking the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Paul Pierce, among others. Along with playing excellent defense that year, Christie averaged 12 points per game and shot 46% from the field and 35% from deep. Christie shot well from deep and got a lot of those open shots because the Kings’ small forward was an elite shooter who spaced the floor like none other.
The 2001-2002 season was Peja Stojakovic’s fourth season and he came into his own during that season. Stojakovic is one of the best shooters in NBA history and he was able to work his magic around the Mike Bibby and Chris Webber pick and roll. The sharp shooter was selected to his first all-star game as he averaged 21.2 points per game, while shooting 48% from the floor and 41% from three point range. Stojakovic wasn’t the only all-star on this team.
Chris Webber missed the first twenty games of that season with an ankle injury but did not miss a beat once he was back on the court. Webber was one of the top power forwards in the league at this time. He was the engine that made the purple and black car run. The former Fab Five member got selected to the All-Star team for the fourth time in his career because he averaged 24.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, while shooting 50% from the field. C-Webb wasn’t the only versatile big man playing for the Kings.
Vlade Divac was a very good role player in the NBA for a long time. Divac was entering his 12th season during the 2001-2002 season and provided veteran leadership for an overall young team. Divac provided a steady presence on both ends of the floor. He wasn’t a shot blocker like most players his size but was excellent at taking charges. Divac averaged 11.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. The Sacramento Kings were more than just their starting lineup, they were also pretty deep.
The Kings’ sixth man was Bobby Jackson. The point guard was a great spark off of the bench, and was consistently in the conversation for sixth man of the year. During the 2001-02 season Jackson averaged 11.1 points per game while shooting 44% from the field. Jackson was not alone on the bench as he also was joined by a young Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard.
The Sacramento Kings had a great season finishing with the number one seed in the western conference recording 61 wins and only 21 losses. The Kings were well balanced and looked poised to take down the Lakers eventually during the playoffs. Sacramento was ranked third in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating. Chris Webber and company went into the first round of the playoffs and had to face the veteran latent Utah Jazz.
The series was very highly contested as the Kings won the best of five series three to one. Sacramento won those three games by a total of eleven points. Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic led the way both averaging almost 21 points per game during the series.
In the Western Conference Semi-Finals Sacramento faced the up and coming Dallas Mavericks. Dallas was led by Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, and Steve Nash. The Kings were able to beat the Mavericks four games to one in the best of seven series. Stojakovic missed the last two games of the series due to a sprained ankle and Mike Bibby stepped up to make up for his absence. Bibby averaged 21.8 points and 6.8 assists per game during the series.
In the Western Conference Finals the Sacramento Kings went up against the Los Angeles Lakers in what would turn out to be one of the greatest playoff series of all time. The Kings had to insert Hedo Turkoglu into the starting lineup for the injured Stojakovic. The teams split the first two games and then the series went to Los Angeles where the Kings took game 3. Game 4 was one for the ages.
The Kings came out on fire and scored 40 points in the first quarter and were up by 20 points going into the second quarter. The Lakers slowly but surely clawed their ways back into the game. The Kings were up by two with eleven seconds left, the Lakers had the ball, Kobe Bryant drove to the goal and missed a floater, Shaquille O’Neal missed a put back and then Vlade Divac tipped the ball out. The ball went out straight to Robert Horry who knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer to win the game. Game 5 was just as thrilling.
Game 5 was a back and forth thriller where Bryant scored 30 points and O’Neal scored 28 points to lead the Lakers but it wasn’t enough as the Kings got the one point victory after Mike Bibby hit a clutch shot with less than ten seconds left as Webber set a devastating screen that knocked Derek Fisher to the ground and gave Bibby the open shot. The series went from great to infamous by the next game.
Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals is one of the most infamous games in the history of sports. I am not one to buy into conspiracy theories but I remember watching this game as a youngster and thinking something wasn’t right and adults confirming my vibe from the game. This was another close game and in the fourth quarter things took an unusual turn as the Lakers took 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. A lot of respected sports journalist came out and spoke about the officiating of the game. Bill Simmons formerly of ESPN said, “The worst and most unfairly officiated game of this decade.” Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee stated: “Game 6 was a travesty, and the worst-officiated NBA playoff game ever.” Kings still had their chance to go to finals with a win or go-home game 7 in Sacramento.
Game 7 was a classic and a fitting end to a terrific series. Mike Bibby and Chris Webber both played well but Bibby’s 29 points and Webber’s 20 points and 11 assists weren’t enough as the Lakers prevailed in an overtime classic. The Lakers eliminated the Kings for the third consecutive year. Los Angeles would go on to win their third consecutive championship by sweeping the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals.
There is still a small part of me after all these years that still believes that the 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings were supposed to be champions. If Peja Stojakovic doesn’t get hurt maybe they win the series in six games. If game six wasn’t so poorly officiated the Kings may have been able to take out the mighty Lakers. There are so many what-ifs when it comes to this team. The Kings would not get this close to winning a championship again. As they had a great season the next year but Chris Webber suffered a season ending knee injury in the playoffs against Dallas.
I just want this team to be remembered. We tend to forget about the teams who were close but didn’t get the cigar. The 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings should be unforgettable.