LOS ANGELES -- For an NBA player, it was the kind of loss that can take years to get over. Now the Sacramento Kings are dealing with it all over again.
A foul discrepancy so lopsided they couldn't help but wonder if they were being cheated. And this week, six years later, accusations that, in fact, they were.
On the verge of playing for a championship they would have been favored to win, the Kings lost Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, 106-102. Los Angeles shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of its final 18 points at the line, to even the series.
Former referee Tim Donaghy alleged in court papers filed this week that two referees, known as "company men," purposely ignored personal fouls and called "made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6."
NBA commissioner David Stern, and Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof have rejected the claims from Donaghy, who has pleaded guilty to betting on games he officiated and taking cash payments from gamblers.
But Doug Christie, remembering how his teammates felt after the game, said he still believes they might be true.
"What's been in the dark comes to the light, and the truth can squash a lot of things. And so if this is the truth, then all of a sudden now it adds validity to things people were thinking, things that our teammates and I'm sure the coaching staffs and the Maloofs were thinking at that particular time," Christie said.
"Just the other night they complained about 38 free throws vs. 10 for Boston vs. L.A., and we're talking about 27 free throws in the deciding final quarter of an elimination game that has such the big, big stage from the standpoint that the defending champs are about to be put out. I mean that's just an incredible number, and when you look at the fouls that were called, players fouling out ... I mean there's just so many different things that magnify that situation. It's crazy."
Christie was a starting guard on a team that won an NBA-best 61 games. Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby were the other starters for the Kings, a high-scoring group under Rick Adelman who felt it was their time to finally get by the hated Lakers.
"We thought we had the best team," Gavin Maloof said. "I know the Lakers had a great team. Remember you had Kobe and Shaq in his prime, I mean that was a tough combination. But we had a lot of great players, too. We had what we felt was the best team in the league."
The Lakers went on to take Game 7 in overtime at Sacramento before sweeping the overmatched New Jersey Nets in the finals. Webber tore up his knee the next year, and the Kings never came close again to winning a title.
Now, Donaghy's allegations have them thinking about what might have been.
"You never get over it," Maloof said. "It was a tough loss and to rehash it all, to have everybody calling from years gone by, it is tough because it brings up bad memories."
But Maloof, whose family's involvement in the league dates back nearly 30 years to his father's ownership of the Houston Rockets, dismissed Donaghy's accusations.
"We've always felt that David and the league has been forthright and upfront and honest with us," Maloof said. "So we don't have no reason to believe that it's true."
Former Kings center Scot Pollard, now an injured reserve for Boston, acknowledged believing Donaghy's charges could be possible, then deciding otherwise because it was too big a secret to keep for this long.
Christie, who said he was physically sick after learning of Donaghy's accusations, is still curious after hearing that retired referee Ted Bernhardt, who worked the game, told ESPN.com that: "I stand by my calls in that game. I was right on."
"His statement was 'I,' and he emphasized 'I' stand behind every call that I made, but personally the other two refs, I love them, I stand behind them, and when you hear stuff like that, it's like something's got to give," Christie said.
Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney, the other two officials, are still active. The NBA generally prohibits referees from talking to the media, and the league declined a request by The Associated Press to speak with them Friday.
Stern acknowledged the FBI investigation into Donaghy's claims did include questions about Bavetta. Stern ordered his own investigation nearly a year ago but doesn't plan to release the findings until after Donaghy's sentencing, scheduled for next month.
Christie said he believes the commissioner and expects him to uncover the truth.
"I think getting to the bottom of this is going to be one of his big legacies," Christie said. "Hopefully he gets to the bottom of it and finds out exactly what went on, if anything, but it looks that way."