Gallagher column: Jackson has bad memories of Game 6
Bobby Jackson stood in disbelief, wearing the same befuddled expression as the rest of his Sacramento Kings teammates.
He remembers wondering why the referees were calling so many fouls on his guys.
It was the 2002 NBA playoffs. Game 6 against the defending champion L.A. Lakers.
Sacramento, which had won a league-high 61 games, was on the verge of dethroning the Lakers and winning the Western Conference finals. The Kings would definitely be favored against the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals and would bring a title to those rabid fans who loved their NBA team.
“Without a doubt, that was our thinking,” said Jackson, the Kings’ sixth man.
The three officials in Game 6, Dick Bavetta, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney, called enough late fouls on Sacramento that the Lakers shot an incredible 27 free throws in the last 12 minutes.
Those free throws helped the Lakers win 106-102, forcing a seventh game. The Lakers then edged Sacramento in overtime and went on to beat the Nets for another title.
The foul discrepancy has stayed with Jackson.
“It’s in the past,” he said. “But it’s hard to forget.”
Especially now, six years later. Former referee Tim Donaghy has claimed the refs did what they had to do to help the Lakers.
Understand the source. Donaghy has already pleaded guilty to betting on games he officiated and for taking money from gamblers.
But Jackson admits Donaghy’s situation has brought back some bad memories.
“When it first came out with the gambling, I was like ‘Oh Lord,’ ” Jackson said. “Now, everything’s coming out. You can’t help but wonder if games were fixed. You go back and watch the tape and you’d be like, ‘Why was that a call?’ ”
Jackson, who is starting his 12th season in the NBA, has played for three other teams since 2002: Memphis, New Orleans and, currently, Houston. But that Game 6 has been on his mind lately.
“We didn’t know if it was fixed or not, but it was like L.A. was getting special treatment,” Jackson said. “When you shoot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter to our eight or nine, that’s very lopsided. You really question what the motive was.”
Jackson says there are no excuses needed for losing Game 7.
“We beat ourselves,” he noted, “but in Game 6, I felt like we were going up against eight guys on the court.”
While L.A. had the dynamic duo of Kobe and Shaq, Sacramento had a better group of starters: Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Vlade Divac. Jackson is convinced the Kings had a championship mentality in 2002.
“We were the best team in the NBA,” Jackson said. “We had confidence that we could beat the Lakers.”
That’s why Donaghy’s claim is haunting Jackson once again.
Despite the fact commissioner David Stern and the FBI have launched investigations, Jackson is still worried about the fans’ perception of the NBA.
“If I was a fan, I’d question it, too,” Jackson said. “All the allegations, all the scandals, all the players getting in trouble ó that’s something we, as players, need to control and monitor ourselves. If we don’t, our job will be even harder.
“As athletes, we have to change that to make people say, ‘You know what? That’s a great guy. He does a lot of good things on and off the court,’ instead of having negative things to say.”
Jackson has nothing to worry about. He seems to have been a fan favorite in each city he has played.
And he is even more beloved in his hometown. Each summer he returns to Salisbury to run a camp. This year, he even started a summer league for middle school and high school kids.
“I didn’t have this when I was growing up,” he said.
Jackson joined his former Sacramento coach, Rick Adelman, in Houston this season, but he said the Game 6 controversy didn’t surface until they had separated for the summer.
But he figures Game 6 is on Adelman’s mind, just like it is on the mind of every single Sacramento King who was a part of that contest six seasons ago.
Jackson sat in the Livingstone College gym on Saturday watching little girls run up and down the court, playing a game they love.
Because of Donaghy’s claims, the game he loves is currently in turmoil.
“You have to hope and wish and think that nothing happened,” Jackson said.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or email@example.com.