The Sacramento Kings of the early-2000’s are one of the best teams never to win an NBA title. Led by Hall of Famer Chris Webber, the Kings won 55 or more games from 2001 to 2004, highlighted by a trip to the 2002 Western Conference Finals. However, their run coincided with the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty, as the combination of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant kept Sacramento from reaching their full potential.
When Webber came to Sacramento, his first thought wasn’t to take down the Lakers. Instead, he wanted to join them and form a new superteam in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the thorn in the side of the Sacramento Kings
C-Webb wasn’t the only new face in town when he arrived in 1998. Seventh overall pick Jason Williams, a 21-year-old Peja Stojakovic, and veteran center Vlade Divac were all in their first seasons with Sacramento. The core immediately clicked, going 27-23 in a lockout-shortened season. Two years later, they led the Kings to their first playoff series victory since 1981.
The first playoff run-in with the Lakers occurred in 1999-00. The 8-seed Kings overcame a 0-2 deficit to send their first-round series to a fifth and final game. But LA pulled through with a 113-86 win, sending the Kings home while eventually winning their first of three consecutive rings.
The following season, Sacramento improved even more. Veteran Doug Christie joined the team, helping Sacramento finish 55-27, good for the 3-seed in the Western Conference. But yet again, the Kings ran into LA, who swept them in the second round of the playoffs.
In 2001-02, the Kings were destined to win. After trading Williams for Mike Bibby, Sacramento finished with a 61-21 record, earning the top seed in the West. The team rolled through their first two playoff rounds before meeting Shaq, Kobe, and the Lakers in the conference finals. It was a series full of heartbreak for the Kings. Seconds away from a 3-1 series lead, Robert Horry hit a game-winning three for LA to even up the series at two. Then, after winning Game 5, Sacramento lost the final two games, including Game 7 at home.
Chris Webber wanted to be a Los Angeles Laker instead
Before Webber spent seven-and-a-half seasons in Sacramento, he wanted to go to Los Angeles. In fact, once C-Webb was traded from the Washington Wizards, he thought LA was his next destination.
“I thought there was going to be a trade for Elden Campbell, Eddie Jones, and Nick Van Exel for me,” Webber said. “I wanted to go there.”
Webber was battling the disappointment of playing for the Kings rather than the Lakers. It took a lot to convince the big man to put aside his feelings and join a team devoid of any success since leaving Kansas City in 1985 (h/t The Athletic).
“It took some work to get Webber past not being a Laker. There were conversations with general manager Geoff Petrie and coach Rick Adelman, assuring him he was welcome and needed in Sacramento. The talk with Adelman was especially key. The message, Webber said, was clear: ‘We know you wanted to go to the Lakers, but we want you and we need you and we’re going to win with you.'”Jason Jones, The Athletic
Of course, Webber bought into Sacramento and brought some much-needed buzz to the franchise. Even if their best years were cut short by the team he originally wanted to play for.
Webber has no regrets about his time in Sacramento
Webber might not have formed a Hall of Fame trio with O’Neal and Bryant as he wanted. But the five-time All-Star has no regrets about becoming a Kings icon instead.
“I thank God for my time there,” Webber said. “I know guys who have won championships that don’t like the guys they played with. We can talk about a lot of things, but I don’t know they would equate that in their lives. I know how I equate my time in Sacramento, I did not win a championship, I did not reach that goal, man that’s tough. But besides that, I couldn’t have asked for anything else.”
C-Webb’s best individual years were also in Sacramento. In his near-eight years with the team, he averaged 23.5 points per game and made five All-NBA teams. He eventually saw his number four retired, as well.
It’s unlikely that taking a backseat to Shaq and Kobe would have resulted in the same amount of individual success. However, the ring will always be the one thing that eludes Webber. And if he had gotten his wish to go to the Lakers, that probably wouldn’t have been the case.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.