This all makes the revelations in disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy all the more painful. Of course we Kings fans accused the referees of engaging in some sort of conspiracy to allow the Lakers to win that series. But that's what any good sports fan would do -- blame the refs for his team's ineptitude.
Then the Donaghy thing happened and we learned that referees really can be corrupted. Donaghy came out swinging, insisting he was not the loan bad apple and that plenty of other dubious choices had been made by referees over the years. He promised a tell-all book and apparently wrote it. It remains unpublished after the NBA threatened to sue.
But excepts have recently emerged and they seem to back up everything Kings fans assumed way back then: Game 6 was fixed.
Now, considering the human tendency toward truthiness, one way to look at Donaghy's allegations is to say that his supposed "truth" jibes all too well with how we, as Kings fans, view the world: that there was a conspiracy against the Kings to boost TV ratings. I don't deny that I'm predisposed to believing anything that bolsters that notion, despite any evidence against it (there's not much, however). The truth is that Donaghy is not exactly a trustworthy character, and to use his claims as your supposed "proof" is not exactly firm ground to stand on.
Still, his claims sound all too plausible, but not in a "truther" sort of way, which represents cynicism to the point of implausibility. Basketball fixing is something that just seems too easy not to happen, it's just all very believable -- and the evidence was right there in front of us.
So yes, Donaghy is a schmuck. But that doesn't mean I still don't feel totally robbed and cheated by forces greater than myself because I didn't get what would have been one of the sweetest vicarious thrills of my life. And yes, the Kings shouldn't have missed all those free throws in Game 7, but that's beside the point (I do think they were the better team in that series, having proved it in Game 6).
In case you haven't seen it, here is what Donaghy has to say about what happened that fateful night in LA, care of Deadspin:
The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings presents a stunning example of game and series manipulation at its ugliest. As the teams prepared for Game 6 at the Staples Center, Sacramento had a 3–2 lead in the series. The referees assigned to work Game 6 were Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt. As soon as the referees for the game were chosen, the rest of us knew immediately that there would be a Game 7. A prolonged series was good for the league, good for the networks, and good for the game. Oh, and one more thing: it was great for the big-market, star-studded Los Angeles Lakers.
In the pregame meeting prior to Game 6, the league office sent down word that certain calls — calls that would have benefitted the Lakers — were being missed by the referees. This was the type of not-so-subtle information that I and other referees were left to interpret. After receiving the dispatch, Bavetta openly talked about the fact that the league wanted a Game 7.
"If we give the benefit of the calls to the team that's down in the series, nobody's going to complain. The series will be even at three apiece, and then the better team can win Game 7," Bavetta stated.
As history shows, Sacramento lost Game 6 in a wild come-from-behind thriller that saw the Lakers repeatedly sent to the foul line by the referees. For other NBA referees watching the game on television, it was a shameful performance by Bavetta's crew, one of the most poorly officiated games of all time.