If the headlines after Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals were any indication, no one should really be surprised by
"Officiating In West Finals More Out of Whack Than Bibby's Nose," read the
"Ugh, What's That Smell? It's the Officiating," read the
"If there was ever a time for conspiracy theories to be given new life, that time is now," he wrote. Later adding, "it's difficult to ignore the Kings' claim that NBC does not want [the Lakers] in the finals. Because of this, many things will be said if the Kings fall [in Game 7]. NBC will be a culprit, as will the NBA. Both will be accused of going Hollywood, which is hard to argue with right now."
"Talk About Foul! Game 6 Was A Real Stinker," was the headline in the
"If you care about basketball, Friday night's Game 6 of the Western Conference finals was a rip-off," he wrote. "The Kings and Lakers didn't decide this series would be extended until Sunday; three referees did. Statistical evidence is usually circumstantial, but consider this anyway: the Lakers had shot an average of 22 foul shots through the first five games of this series, but on Friday night here at home they shot 27 -- in the fourth quarter."
One of the more poignant headlines came from the
"Who do these players think they are? Do they actually think fans buy tickets to go and watch
Modesti, now the sports editor of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, which oversees nine newspapers, including the
"I wondered, looking back, if we would feel good about how we covered it, feel like we saw that if something wasn't at least wrong going on then something at least unusual was happening or would we be embarrassed and find that we wrote a dozen stories and none of them mentioned refereeing," said Modesti, as he sat in the press room at the Staples Center before Game 4. "Well, of course, anyone who remembers that series, you couldn't watch those games without commenting on the officiating. I went back and looked at the 10 stories we wrote after Game 6 and four of them went heavily into the foul disparity and officiating."
Throughout the story, he had quotes from Kings players blaming the officials for the loss. "Why don't they just let us know in advance?" said Divac, half-jokingly suggesting the officials knew who would win beforehand. "We didn't have a chance to win." Chris Webber said, "We didn't have a chance tonight ... I'm not going to say what I really feel. I'll get fined. I'll keep my opinions to myself." While
While Bonsignore hadn't looked back at his story since it ran, he vividly remembered the scene in Kings locker room after Game 6 because, as he said, he had never covered a game or a series dominated by talk of officiating as much. "You don't want to be suspicious because you want to believe things are on the up and up," he said. "But the fact that [allegations] have come up now, how can it really be a surprise when everyone was really talking about it back then? To a man, every Kings player felt that [Game 6] had been decided before they even took the floor. It wasn't a question in any of their minds that they got robbed and looking back at it now, maybe they did."
Many of the writers who had covered Game 6 at the Staples Center said they didn't remember the game or the stories they wrote well enough to comment on it six years later, as they prepared to cover Game 4 of the NBA Finals, joking as
The question, however, intrigued
"By then, it was simply a matter of the Lakers taking advantage of the sort of liberal officiating that made one wonder: Were the referees attempting to make up for a poorly called Game 5 with a worse job in Game 6?" he read from his computer. "The Kings will talk forever about how the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter, while the Kings shot nine. Viewers everywhere will wonder how basketball's two most exciting teams could be ground to a halt by officials who were decidedly not going to let the players play."
Looking back at the column, Plaschke has a bittersweet feeling. While he says, "thank God I wrote about the officiating," he regrets that it was only a small part of a column headlined, "They Refuse To Lose The Look Of A Champion," which mainly focused on the Lakers keeping alive their bid for a Three-Peat going into Game 7.
"That was the worse game I've ever seen called before or since, but I still didn't want to believe there could ever be a conspiracy. I think maybe I was naïve," said Plaschke. "As bad as the game was officiated, at that time in my career, and even until a couple days ago, I thought it all evens out. You could tell I didn't want to believe it. I wrote about it, but I didn't want to take that next step to say that it's rigged. But I remember we all talked about and the next day I remember thinking, 'Did I blow it? Should I have been tougher?' But I always thought the calls even out."
Plaschke recalls bringing up the game and the calls the Lakers got in the series to commissioner Stern during the NBA Finals that year.
"He looked at me, pointed his finger and said, 'If you're going to write that there's a conspiracy theory, then you better understand that you're accusing us of committing a felony and if you put that in the paper you better have your facts straight,'" he said. "So I just backed off, I didn't have any facts, just what I saw, but he got very upset at me."
So knowing what he and other writers know now, how would he handle a similarly officiated game in the future?
"It's totally changed, I gave everyone the out back then," he said. "Everyone says its just Tim Donaghy, a shamed ref. Well,