Portland Trail Blazers: A whistle-for-whistle look at the “fixed” 2000 Blazers-Lakers Game 7

Scottie Pippen. Arvydas Sabonis, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images)
Scottie Pippen. Arvydas Sabonis, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Scottie Pippen, Portland Trail Blazers, Robert Horry, Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images) /

Game Seven of the 2000 West Finals is known in some circles as being “fixed” for a more marketable Finals. Here, we examine every whistle from the Portland Trail Blazers’ biggest collapse in team history.

When you’re 7-foot-1, 325 pounds, and regarded in the basketball lore as the “most dominant specimen to ever play,” there’s not much worth fearing. But a few years after his playing career concluded, Shaquille O’Neal admitted that there were two teams that he and his legendary Los Angeles Lakers feared: the Sacramento Kings and, you guessed it, the Portland Trail Blazers.

From 1997 to 2002, the Lakers and Blazers — No. 1 and No. 3 in wins — were amongst an expansive (and eventually post-Jordan) crop of teams that had aspirations of being the best team in the world. Those worlds collided in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002, with the Lakers winning all five, a full sweep and a dust-pan to follow.

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But by 2000, the Blazers had — as Hulk Hogan would say — said their prayers and taken their vitamins. And after years of toggling talented outcasts from across the league, it looked as though they’d finally found their sweet spot. They went 59-23, second in the Western Conference, and had eyes on their first championship since 1977. There was only one team to look to in the standings.

And it wasn’t a matter of if they’d see them. But when.

Which leads us to Game Seven of that series. The two-decade anniversary of that slugfest is on the near horizon. These days, many see it as one of Stern’s many “fixes,” for fear of a rating nightmare that would’ve become the Indiana Pacers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers in the Finals.

For that reason, it’s easy to find a fascination. Over the next two years, two series provoked similar memories (the 2001 Bucks-76ers East Finals and the 2002 Lakers-Kings West Finals).  In both cases, and especially with that East Finals, it feels like just the popular thing to say. Once one person sees it as rigged, the trickle-down effect begins. But, why not have a look for ourselves?

Here’s what we know for sure. Some in the NBA’s officiating brass have alluded to it being a company job. In former NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s Personal Foul in 2007, he said this:

"“The 2002 (Kings-Lakers) series certainly wasn’t the first or last time Bavetta weighed in on an important game. He also worked Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Trail Blazers. The Lakers were down 13 at the start of the fourth quarter when Bavetta went to work. The Lakers outscored Portland 31-13 in the fourth quarter and went on to win the game and the series. It certainly didn’t hurt the Lakers that they got to shoot 37 free throws compared to a paltry 16 for the Trail Blazers.” One page later: “He also spoke only about the 2002 Los Angeles-Sacramento series and called himself the NBA’s “go-to-guy.”"

The book is filled with tons of alleged anecdotes to this degree, including one about Wallace waiting for Donaghy in an arena parking lot and approaching him to discuss a $1,000 fine. Or one about most referees around the NBA disliking Wallace and wanting to “stick it to him every chance we got.”

In whichever case, there are two sides — and apparently 54 whistles — to every side of a story. Using this full game as a guide, we’ll take a closer examination into how realistic some of the storylines are to this Game Seven.