Our second NBA Tuesday miniseries takes on one of the most blatant travesties in NBA postseason history: the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. When people ask why the NBA is fixed? This is usually at the top of the list, thanks to horrid officiating that cost the small-market Kings their shot at eternal glory. Let’s just get this done fast.
2002 NBA FINALS MVP: Shaquille O’Neal, C, Los Angeles (original, confirmed)
The league garnered so much negative press after rigging the Finals between L.A. and the New Jersey Nets that the powers in control felt a sweep was in the NBA’s best interests. The Lakers brushed the Nets aside by an average of 9.2 points per contest, and the sporting world moved on to a riveting summer of baseball (also tarnished, of course, by PEDs), quickly forgetting the NBA.
L.A. center Shaquille O’Neal won his third straight Finals MVP vote for posting 36.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 3.8 apg, and 2.8 bpg. The Nets had four players score in doubles, while the Lakers only had a top-heavy three players do it, so that’s how dominant O’Neal was—not that anyone remembers these Finals at all. We confirm his award, although we acknowledge that, like 2000, L.A. never should have been here at all.
2002 NBA DPOY: Ben Wallace, C, Detroit (original); Dikembe Mutombo, C, Philadelphia 76ers (revised)
Detroit Pistons C Ben Wallace (7.62 DWS) won the DPOY vote, while Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (3.8) laughably finished third in the voting, tied with Philadelphia 76ers C Dikembe Mutombo (5.45). Why did voters love Kobe? No idea. In addition to Wallace and Mutombo, real contenders here also included Nets point guard Jason Kidd (5.81).
So, it comes down to playoff margins, as always: New Jersey (11), Detroit (9), Philly (2). That means Mutombo wins another trophy from us (he also won our nods in 1994 and 1995). He also won the vote in 1997, 1998, and 2001 although we handed the hardware to someone else in those years. He’s been a busy guy in this space, for sure.
At age 35, his stats this time out: 7.6 defensive boards per game and 2.4 blocks for a team that coughed up just 89.4 ppg on the season, second best in the NBA. With the team scoring just 91.0 ppg, it’s safe to say Mutombo was the primary reason the 76ers made the playoffs, just one year after reaching the NBA Finals.