Mike Bibby calls 2002 WCF 'greatest tragedy in sports'

Former Miami Heat guard Mike Bibby remembers being warned that their 2002 conference finals series against the Los Angeles Lakers could be manipulated.
Chris Webber walks with Mike Bibby
Chris Webber walks with Mike Bibby / Jed Jacobsohn/GettyImages

NBA Legends and former teammates Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller welcome Heat legend, Mike Bibby to "The OGs Show" to talk about Bronny James, getting robbed, untold Miami Heat stories, and much more.

Setting the stage for the NBA's most controversial Western Conference Finals series

The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers is still a topic of much debate among NBA fans. Sacramento was close to taking a 3-1 series lead, but Robert Horry's iconic buzzer-beater tied the series at 2-2. The Kings then secured a strong Game 5 win, putting the Lakers on the brink of elimination. However, L.A. managed to win the last two games of the series, ultimately eliminating Sacramento.

The Lakers were the back-to-back defending NBA champions during the 2001-2002 season, finishing with a record of 58-24. They were tied with the San Antonio Spurs for second place in the Western Conference, but lost the tiebreaker and ended up as the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The team from Los Angeles had two future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, along with skilled role players like Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry, as well as a future Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson.

Sacramento, on the other hand, won 61 games, setting a franchise record that still stands today. The Kings had seven players who averaged double-digit points, with Chris Webber leading the way with 24.5 points per game, followed by Peja Stojaković with 21.2 points and Bibby with 13.7 points. Many believed that the winner of the Western Conference Finals would go on to win the NBA championship.

The series between Sacramento and Los Angeles was highly competitive, with Games 4 and 5 being split by the two teams, each game coming down to the final possession. The Kings were ahead 3-2 against the Lakers as they headed into Game 6 in Los Angeles. At the end of the third quarter, the score was tied at 75, and that's when things took a very unusual turn.

During his appearance on "The OGs" Podcast, the former Kings starting point guard talked about how that series unfolded after his team won Game 5.

"Shaq is the most dominant player I've seen in my life. Kobe's a top-three player of all time. And just to see them on the bench looking defeated, you could look on the bench, you can even go look at some of the YouTube stuff and just see their faces on the bench, Phil Jackson's face, Fisher's face, you can look at everybody's face and just see like it's over with. I knew it was over with," Bibby said.

Chucky Brown warned Bibby about potential game tampering

Following Game 5, the Kings journeyed to Los Angeles in anticipation of potentially closing out the series. During the two-day break, Bibby made several radio appearances, boldly asserting that they would secure victory over the Lakers at home. Despite Bibby's confidence, his experienced teammate Chucky Brown cautioned him about the possibility of a tough battle ahead for the Kings, even with just one more win needed to reach the NBA Finals.

"Chucky Brown played for the Rockets, and he was in his 14th season," Bibby recalled. "I'm not going to say the ref's name, but we just came back from a movie premiere, and I'm like, This sh** is over with, running around in a limo. He was like, 'Mike, if they bring this crew, it's not going to go the way we like.'"

In his fourth NBA season, Bibby did not accept Brown's assertion. However, Game 6 became one of the most contentious playoff matches in history. The Lakers managed to push the series to Game 7 and ultimately beat Sacramento on their own court to reach their third consecutive NBA Finals. Bibby asserted that the 2002 series shouldn't have made it to a Game 7. Despite the imperfect officiating, Bibby and his teammates were unable to perform effectively in crucial moments.

Former teammate Chris Webber said the Kings were cheated

The NBA's official records confirm that the Los Angeles Lakers secured a victory in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals by outscoring the Sacramento Kings with a final score of 106-102. Despite the absence of an asterisk next to the game's statistics, there are those who argue that there should be one, suggesting that it should read as follows: *Lakers were aided by referees who made several questionable calls and non-calls during the final quarter to push Los Angeles into Game 7. A significant number of fans, players, and members of the media continue to believe that this was the true scenario in Game 6.

Rather than using an asterisk, there are claims, conjecture, a criminal's affidavit, inquiries from both federal authorities and the NBA, disparaging remarks from athletes, and an ongoing discussion that persists up to the present time.

Foul finish

Although Bibby didn't explicitly state it, former Kings superstar Webber discussed that series and asserted that the Kings were unfairly denied the chance to reach their full potential. The Kings were penalized by the referees for a number of questionable fouls during the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the referees seemed to overlook obvious fouls committed against the Lakers, particularly when Bryant elbowed Bibby in the face, causing him to bleed and fall to the floor.

The other Kings players also argued that the referees did not provide them with a fair opportunity in Game 6, especially since Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard were disqualified due to fouls. The Lakers received 40 free throw opportunities, and managed to successfully make 21 of them, while the Kings only had 25 free-throw attempts throughout the entire game. 

The Lakers secured 16 of their final 18 points from the free-throw line, ultimately leading them to victory. Subsequently, Los Angeles went on to win Game 7 in Sacramento and advance to the NBA Finals, where they clinched their third consecutive championship.

In 2008, everything took a different turn when Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee who had fallen from grace, made shocking claims. Donaghy had worked as an NBA official for 13 years before stepping down in 2007 following a scandal involving gambling. He eventually confessed to placing bets on games he had officiated and spent some time behind bars.

For a number of years, many individuals held the strong belief in the conspiracy that the NBA favored the Lakers to win. However, Game 6 was widely perceived by the majority as one of the most poorly officiated and controversial games in NBA history.