The lockout shortened 1998-1999 NBA season gave birth to one of the most dazzling teams to ever grace the hardwood.
Resulting from a series of moves by general manager Geoff Petrie, the Sacramento Kings took the league by storm in the ’98-’99 NBA season. The Kings, dubbed the “Greatest Show on Court” at one time by Sports Illustrated Magazine, surprised the league in the shortened season and finished with a winning record of 27-23, the first winning season for the team since the move to Sacramento in 1985. With new head coach Rick Adelmen at the helm and former Princeton head coach Pete Carril at his side, the “Greatest Show” Kings took the “Princeton Offense” to the next level. The “Princeton Offense” created by Carril, put an emphasis on constant motion, quick passing, back door cuts, and on and off back ball picks. Designed for a unit comprised of players who can all pass, shoot, and dribble, the ‘Princeton Offense” was like the modern-day Spurs offense. Only with the “Greatest Show” Kings, it was like the modern-day Spurs’ style was injected with steroids and then did a line of coke.
The Kings moved the ball with vigorous speed, producing plenty of highlight plays but not without their fair share of foolish turnovers. With players capable of making plays at every position, Sacramento quickly gained popularity around the league because of the endless amount of jaw dropping plays the team produced on a nightly basis. Built perfectly for the “Princeton Offense,” the Kings had one of the more tantalizing starting lineups in the league at the time and also had depth that went deeper than most other teams. The prominent players of “the Greatest Show on Court” era for the Kings consisted of:
The Kings’ 1998 draft pick was the prototypical point guard for the offense that Sacramento was running at the time. A combination of slick handles, outrageous passing skills, and old school NBA swagger, Jason Williams was dubbed “White Chocolate” because of his flashy playstyle that made him a favorite among fans. Drafted out of the University of Florida with the seventh pick in the draft, Williams excelled in his rookie season, averaging 12.8 points, 6.0 assists, and 1.9 steals and earning a spot on the 1999 NBA All-Rookie First team. Williams was the best passer on the team but often got carried away with the flashy passes and turned the ball over constantly. This led to him getting in the dog house with the coaching staff and ultimately may have had a part in his eventual departure from Sacramento via trade. In his third season with the Kings, Williams started to lose minutes because of his careless play and was even benched at the ends of some games because his coaches didn’t trust his play.
In the Kings best season (with Williams on the roster), White Chocolate averaged five fewer minutes per games along with three fewer points and about two fewer assists. Nevertheless, Williams’ passing skills and handle were a staple of the “Greatest Show on Court” Kings and produced highlights that would set NBA Twitter ablaze nowadays. The accuracy and uniqueness of Williams’ passing arsenal is nearly unmatched in league history and the dimes that he dropped have aged incredibly well, still looking as sweet today as they did almost two decades ago when the Kings were on the rise.
Try not to let your jaw hit the floor while you watch this highlight mix of Williams’ best plays with the Kings:
When the Kings’ coaching staff had finally had enough of William’s careless play, they sent him to the Vancouver Grizzlies in a point guard swap for Mike Bibby after the end of the 2000-2001 season. Bibby had played well in his three seasons with the Grizzlies but the team continued to struggle and the point guard was shipped out to the Kings along with Brent Price. Bibby quickly jelled with his Sacramento teammates and the Kings rocketed to a 61-21 regular season record, the best in the NBA. In his first season with Sacramento, Bibby averaged 13.7 points and 5.0 assists while providing the team with the consistency and stability at the point guard position that the Kings lacked with Williams running the show. While still producing the assists that Williams brought to the court, Bibby provided the team with better shooting and better decision making with the ball. Bibby continued to improve with the Kings, eventually peaking in the 2005-2006 seasons when he averaged just over 21 points per game. While Bibby rose, the team that surrounded him disbanded after the 2003-2004 season and the era of “the Greatest Show on Court” was over.
For a look at one of the most underrated point guards of the 2000s era, check out this mix of Bibby’s best moments with the Kings:
The Kings acquired Doug Christie from the Toronto Raptors after the 1999-2000 season to bolster their defense, which had received a lot of negative attention during the early days of the “Greatest Show on Court” Kings. Christie quickly became the Kings’ starting shooting guard and developed into one of the league’s better defenders. Combined with the fact that the shooting guard was one of the better three-point shooters at the time, Christie quickly became a fan favorite and a crucial part of the team. In his five seasons in Sacramento, the guard averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game while shooting a respectable 36 percent from beyond the arc. Christie’s passing, on-par with the rest of his Kings teammates, was one of the more underlooked parts of his game and was part of the reason that the Sacramento offense ran like a well-oiled machine. The guard played fifteen solid seasons in the NBA and is a player who modern day NBA fans may have never heard of or don’t know much about.
For a taste of what Christie brought to the floor with the Kings, check out the top five plays from his time in Sacramento:
At small forward during the “Greatest Show” era was the Kings’ 1996 draft pick, Peja Stojakovic. Stojakovic was drafted with the 16th overall pick by the Kings but continued to play two more seasons in Greece before coming over to America to play in the NBA. Stojakovic debuted in the shortened 1998-1999 season alongside Jason Williams but was limited to a bench role during his first two years with the team. The Serbian forward had a break out season in 01′-02′ when the Kings finally moved him up to the starting line up after moving their previous starting small forward in the Doug Christie trade. Stojakovic averaged 20.4 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the floor and a scorching 40 percent from three. His breakthrough season was a huge part of the Kings going 55-27, their best record in 40 years, and ended up with the forward finishing second in the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award voting.
From that point on, Stojakovic continued to flourish in the King’s offense and solidified himself as one of the best shooters of the early 2000s NBA. He went on to be selected to three consecutive All-Star teams and won the Three-Point Shootout competition in his first two. Stojakovic hit his peak in the 2003-2004 season, finishing second in the league in point per game at 24.2 while shooting 43 percent from three. The Serbian also led the league in free throw percentage (93.3 percent) and three pointers made (240), earning a spot on the All-NBA Second Team and finishing fourth in MVP voting.
While Stojakovic was known for his flamethrower-like shooting, the swingman also possessed above average passing skills (remember that full-court behind the back pass? this one) and was solid on the defensive end of the court. His time with the Kings came to an end after an injury-plagued 2004-2005 season when he was traded to the Pacers for Ron Artest. Sacramento retired Stojakovic’s number 16 jersey in December of 2014, solidifying his spot among the franchise’s greats.
Feast your eyes below upon one of Stojakovic’s greatest performances against the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. The forward scored 37 points on 12-18 shooting (7-11 from three) to lead the Kings to a tough victory against their rivals:
Chris Webber was a baaaaad man during his Sacremento Kings days. The soft spoken NBA analyst spent the first five seasons in the league with the Golden State Warriors and Washington Bullets/Wizards, eventually being traded to the Kings in exchange for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe in 1998. Webber didn’t want to play in Sacramento originally, since the team was known as a losing franchise, however the roster moves that coincided with his arrival would ultimately change his mind. In his first year with the Kings, the shortened lock out season, Webber led the league in rebounds per game (13.0), breaking Dennis Rodman’s seven season streak as the NBA’s rebounding leader. Webber continued to develop with the Kings, making the All-Star team in the next season and leading the team to a playoff exit against the Champion-Winning Lakers. (In game four of that series, Webber put up a mind-boggling stat-line of 23 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 blocks, and 4 steals.
Webber hit his peak in the 2000-2001 season, posting a career-high 27.1 points per game and once again making the All-Star team. The forward also finished fourth in MVP voting and led the Kings to the second round of the playoffs where they were once again defeated by the Lakers. Webber signed a huge extension with the Kings and helped the team flourish in the 2001-2002 season where they won the Pacific Division Title and finished with a league and franchise best 61-21 record. The team made it to the Western Conference finals and once again faced off against their rivals, the Lakers, losing to Los Angeles in a controversy-filled seven-game series (that will be discussed more below). While Webber went on to make his fourth consecutive All-Star team, the forward’s physical style of play began to catch up with him and the injuries began piling up. Webber tweaked his knee against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, missing the rest of the 2002-2003 NBA Playoffs and the majority of the 2003-2004 NBA season.
Webber returned at the end of the season to help the Kings defeat the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs but the team failed to defeat the top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves led by Kevin Garnett (although they took Minny to seven games). Webber was then traded to the Sixers in the following season, ending his time in Sac-Town.
Webber’s play style with the Kings was beautiful to watch, with Webber being Blake Griffin before Griffin was even born. The forward’s strong post game was complimented by his fancy footwork and Webber ran the floor better than any other power forward in the league during his time in the league. But what is often forgotten about Webber is his hands and passing ability. Webber looked like he had suction cups attached to his hands half the time on the court, catching bullet passes from Jason Williams or outrageous alley oops from Mike Bibby. And the Fab-Five member flourished with the ball in his hands, creating easy buckets for his teammates with jaw dropping passes that rivaled Williams and put other point guards around the league to shame. In today’s NBA, Webber would have all the traits that you would want for your perfect small ball center: a ferocious defender who can hold his own against taller players in the paint but has the footwork to cover guards out on the perimeter, tenacious rebounding ability on both sides of the floor, the athleticism to run the break and finish at the rim, the ball handling ability to run the break on his own, and the passing ability to pass out of the post or run the offense from the top of the key (like a better version of Draymond Green). Sacremento rightfully retired Webber’s number four jersey back in 2009, where it hangs with two of his “Greatest Show” teammates.
The footage might be a bit fuzzy, but you can still clearly see why Webber is one of the most offensively gifted power forwards to play in the NBA in this mix of his best Kings plays:
After being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant, Vlade Divac played two seasons with the Hornets before the NBA lockout occurred. When the lockout ended, Divac joined his fellow countryman Peja Stojakovic on the Kings, signing with Sacremento in free agency. While the Serbian center was on the downside of his career at 30-years-old, Divac was rejuvenated in his first season with the Kings, averaging 14.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game on 47 percent shooting from the floor. Paired with newly acquired power forward Chris Webber, the two big men quickly gelled and formed one of the best passing big men duos in league history. One of the veterans on a roster full of young players, Divac quickly became one of the team’s emotional leaders on the court and in the locker room and was a huge part of the team’s unmatchable chemistry. Divac also had his lone All-Star selection with the Kings in the 2000-2001 season.
Divac thrived in the Kings offense, which often utilized the skilled passing abilities of Sac-Town’s two-star post players. Often regarded as one of the best European players to play in the NBA, Divac was also one of the best passing big men of all-time and had a soft touch around the rim. His wide array of passes could find every corner of the floor and his passing is part of what made the Sacremento offense so fluid and exciting to watch. The Serbian was also the defensive anchor for the Kings during his stay in Sacremento, which his 1.2 blocks per game average as a King doesn’t do justice.
Divac, now the General Manager of the Kings, had his number 21 jersey retired on the same night as Webber back in 2009.
Although this highlight real leaves out many of Divac’s outstanding plays as a King, it shows off the versatility that the Serbian brought to the court during his tenure in Sacramento:
While the “Greatest Show” Kings never won a ring, they got close in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Game Six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals is often the first game on the list of anyone who is trying to prove that the NBA is rigged. The Kings had lost to the Lakers in the past two playoffs but came into the post season with the best record in the league and were looking to prove they were the best team in the league. The Kobe and Shaq Lakers snatched homecourt advantage in the first game but the Kings responded, winning the next two games to take a 2-1 series lead. The series had been relatively normal so far with the teams swapping road wins and the higher seed Kings holding a one game lead and looking to put the series out of reach on the road.
Then things started to get a little weird.
The Kings took an early lead in the game but the Lakers rallied back in the second half, ultimately winning the game on the now historic game winning three-pointer made by Robert “Big Shot” Horry. Game five ended up being another close game that had been back and forth the whole game and coming down to the last shot of the game. Bibby drilled an eighteen footer with 11 seconds left in the game to put the Kings up 92-91 and then Bryant missed his potentially game winning jumper, giving the Kings a 3-2 series lead. Game six was where everything got turned upside and where Sacremento may have been cheated out of their finals appearance.
The Lakers were aided by beneficial calls for the majority of the game yet the Kings had managed to keep it close. The two teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 75 each and it felt like the Kings could finally knock the Lakers down from their pedestal. However, what many consider the most notorious quarter of basketball in NBA history occurred instead.
The following excerpt comes from thedailybeast.com’s 2014 article, “The NBA’s Greatest, Ugliest Series”:
The statistics: 27 free throw attempts in the quarter for the Lakers, against nine for the Kings. L.A. converted only five field goals for the entire quarter. Three fouls on Kings big man Lawrence Funderburke in just six minutes. 40 free throws for the Lakers over the course of the game. 25 free throws for the Kings over the course of the game – two less than the Lakers shot in the last quarter alone.
After the game, the series shifted back to Sacremento with the two teams locked up at 3-3. Game seven was tightly contested but the Kings ultimately fell to the Lakers 112-106 after shooting just 16-30 from the line among other miscues. Although they returned to the playoffs in the next three seasons, the Kings failed to capitalize on their best chance at a championship as the Lakers went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets.
The pot was stirred even more in 2008 when former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was convicted on two charges of conspiracy for fixing NBA games. During his sentencing, Donaghy’s allegations against the NBA were released through his lawyer in a filing and featured Game Six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. The former ref claimed that the 2002 playoff series was “rigged by referees and that league officials had encouraged refs to affect the outcome of games by calling fouls or, in other situations, not calling fouls on star players.” While Donaghy’s reputation is as low as it could ever get, there is no reason that the disgraced ref would suggest these ideas without the substance being true. Either way, the Game Six of that playoff series is still debated to this day and remains as one of the black eyes on the league’s image.
Be The Judge: for an in-depth break down of Game Six, check out this analysis by Roland Beech or watch the entire fourth quarter of the game down below and decide for yourself
Regardless of the team’s failure to win an NBA Championship, the “Greatest Show on Court” Kings were one of the most dazzling teams to ever grace the hardwood.
The before-its-time Princeton Offense that the Kings ran combined with a roster of players who weren’t afraid to share the ball resulted in a team that epitomized the word “fun” and left fans around the league in awe. Sacramento was scrappy, likable, and brought a little bit of swagger to the floor which would have made them even more popular in today’s NBA. The 2001-2002 Kings roster will be featured as one of the sixteen historic teams in this year’s installment of the NBA 2k franchise but not even plays made with a controller can measure up to the video-game-like highlights of the “Greatest Show” Kings. And as longtime Kings announcer Grant Napear says, “If you don’t like that, you don’t like NBA Basketball”